Women’s Carnival Day champions a lighthearted version of female supremacy. Although German women ruled the streets Thursday, their economic outlook remains nothing to party about.
The happy faces don't always reflect the economic realities for German women
Thursday’s Weiberfastnacht celebration in Cologne provided the ultimate female power trip. Women’s Carnival Day started off with beer drinking for breakfast. It buzzed into an 11:11 a.m. symbolic takeover of city hall. It staggered on through necktie cutting and indiscriminate kissing.
Weiberfastnacht kicks off a long weekend of wild carnival partying in Germany’s Rhineland. Costumes are mandatory. In Cologne, groups of rowdy girlfriends in festive wigs, bright clothes and clown faces roamed the city center.
Yet painted on smiles are only skin deep. The reality for German women is that they earn less than men and experts don’t see the pay gap closing in the near future.
Germany ’s gaping wage gap
Women take a day off to party in Cologne
The European Union recently launched an equal opportunities campaign to raise awareness of gender and other types of discrimination. Germany scores poorly in Europe when it comes to equal pay. German women make 23 percent less than men. Only 3 of 25 European countries studied have a higher wage gap in the economy as a whole, according to Eurostat.
“It’s a European-wide problem, but Germany is one of the worst cases,” said Dr. Michael Domsch, a leading expert on gender inequality in the workplace. “I think there’s no real lobby for women.”
Reasons why the average German woman makes less than her male counterpart are many. More women work part-time jobs. Many end up in poorly paid professions. Women workers tend to be younger and have less seniority. They take time off to raise families. German tax law makes dual income earning unattractive.
Female party power abounds
By 10 a.m. Thursday, groups of party-ready women and their male admirers queued up outside pubs in Cologne’s old town. Police estimated that 43,000 partiers crowded the streets in the city center.
The early morning party atmosphere fueled the job optimism of Nicole, Simone and Jasmin. The three friends said they planned to spend the next few days partying and didn't worry about getting left behind in the German economy.
Jasmin, 26, was decked out in traditional peasant garb. She recently lost her job as a team leader at a call center. Since being unemployed, she has thought about stepping off the career track to start a family.
“I think I’m lucky,” said her 26-year-old friend Nicole, who was dressed in a fuzzy cow costume with black and white splotches on her cheeks. She lives near Cologne and works as a service assistant at Mercedes Benz. “The team is great, the work is good and the money is also fine.”
Youthful optimism might be justified. Statistics show the pay gap is small for young people who are just entering the labor market. The under 30 crowd had a similar number of men and women saying they were executives—7 percent each, according to the German Statistics Office. The percentage of women as senior employees goes down as women get older, most often because they interrupt their careers to have families.
Women leaders lacking
Female managers are scarce in Germany
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown that women can attain political power, in the private sector women leaders are scarce. Germany ranks in the bottom third of Europe for women in manager positions at 26 percent, according to Eurostat.
The lack of female managers alarms Domsch, who directs the Institute for Human Resources and International Management at the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg.
To remain competitive, German companies need to better utilize the pool of talented women, Domsch said.
Eva Maria Roer avoided male hierarchies by starting her own company in 1978. Today, DT & Shop is a leading dental supply company which employing 250 people and has a female-dominated group of managers.
Women are rising through the ranks of medium-sized companies, said Roer, who is also the chair of Total E-Quality, a group that promotes equal opportunities for German women. But she’s worried that not enough women in large companies are moving into managerial positions.
“On the board of large German corporations women are not only scarce, there are not to be found,” Roer said. “That should not prevail in the future.”
A flexible future?
Women are underrepresented in technical fields
Flexible working hours and affordable, convenient childcare help qualified women work and have families. But working women can’t close the wage gap when they choose professions which are poorly paid.
Germany doesn’t have affirmative action policies to get women into well-paid, traditionally male-dominated fields, said Dr. Angelika von Wahl. The mentality in Germany is different from countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, where systems are in place to protect people from discrimination, said von Wahl, a German-born researcher who is currently a professor at San Francisco State University.
Wahl pointed to the ongoing class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart, which alleges 1.5 million current and former female employees in the US were discriminated against in pay and promotions.
“In Britain and the US you have official institutions that oversee to some extent the compliance to equal pay and anti discrimination. We don’t have something like that in Germany,” von Wahl said.
What Germany does have is the chance to party and forget that life is not fair.