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Media women want more

March 8, 2012

The "Pro Quota" Initiative wants to see more female bosses in the media industry. Numbers of budding female journalists are high. But somewhere along the line, women appear to be being held back.

Presenter Anne Will with former president Horst Köhler in her talk-show
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Their talk is tough, their tone challenging: "We make up 50 percent. We want our 50 percent," or "Better a quota woman than no woman boss at all." More than 300 women in Germany's media sector are calling for a quota system that would require more women in executive positions.

Among them are the director-general of public broadcaster Radio Berlin-Brandenburg and the editor-in-chief of DW News, as well as a number of hosts, editors and reporters. Just under two weeks ago, they made their demands known with a letter to the top dogs in Germany's media.

And that's exactly where they want to be themselves. On their website, www.pro-quote.de, they point out that only 2 percent of all the editors-in-chief of Germany's roughly 360 daily and weekly newspapers are women. And of the 12 director-generals of the public broadcasters, only three are women.

The quota is needed, say its supporters, because things haven't changed voluntarily. In concrete terms, that means the percentage of women occupying the top positions in German media organizations should increase to 30 percent within five years. It's an ambitious goal, but the starting position for women journalists in Germany is not that bad. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of entry-level journalists are women. The question is: at which point on the career ladder do women reach the glass ceiling?

Traditional gender roles

DW news chief Dagmar Engel supports the campaignImage: DW

Dr. Monika Henn, a psychologist, says that part of the problem lies in the division of gender roles. Women are told that if they want to have children, they should not or cannot pursue their careers further.

"Many women have the feeling that they have to change who they are in order to reach the top management positions, and they do not want to do that," Henn told DW. But the list of obstacles does not stop there, she said.

"As a boss you have to devote yourself 120 percent to the job - you always have to be there, constantly present," said Henn.

Women, however, often have to divide their time between their family and their profession. In many companies such a division is still unthinkable, Henn said. And it's not just the division of gender roles that disadvantages women. Their bosses also often make it difficult for them to get to the top. Men often push to the front of the line, while women are often more restrained and sell themselves short. In order to support women and to recruit them for the upper echelons, management needs to learn to call on women to have more confidence in themselves.

Women lead differently

Women not only need to be led differently, they also lead differently when they arrive in management, according to Henn.

"Because women are not judged in the same way as men, if a woman is as dominant or vocal as a man, she will often face rejection," Henn said.

As a consequence, women often present themselves more softly but no less authoritatively. And women also tend to include their team in decision-making, so that decisions are implemented and carried by everyone, according to the world-renowned social psychologist Alice Eagly.

Some studies have come to the conclusion that companies with mixed-sex management are more economically successful than companies without women. That was recently confirmed by the accounting firm Ernst & Young. But while more women in management may make economic sense, does it necessarily require a quota system?

Nicole Bastian heads the finance section at Germany's largest business newspaper, Handelsblatt. For a long time, she believed that women could work their way up the ladder without a quota. But now she has changed her position.

"I don't think a quota is the best, but it's necessary for a transition period," said Bastian, whose predecessors were all men. She doesn't believe that entering a top position under a quota would negatively impact the perception of women in the office. Once in management, women could then demonstrate how good they are.

The "Pro Quota" campaign is not just about giving women the chance to prove themselves in top positions. It's also about control of media content: the person who decides what is published in newspapers, on the airwaves, online or on television is always the boss. It is not about increasing the amount of content targeted at women; what is needed is a media which presents a balanced picture of society.

Reaction to 'Pro Quota'

women's minister Kristina Schröder, labor minister Ursula von der Leyen, chancellor Angela Merkel
Even the women in the cabinet don't agree on the quotaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Media companies have already reacted to the campaign. The German weekly newspaper Die Zeit and the news magazine Der Spiegel have said they support the initiative, and they are looking to promote more women to managerial positions.

Those in politics are not so clear. There is no consensus in government over a legally enforcible women's quota. Of all people, the minister for women and family, Kristina, Schröder supports a voluntary quota - a so-called "Flexi-Quota" - meaning that companies would have the right to determine their own individual targets. The EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, goes further: she will present concrete proposals for a EU-wide women's quota in late summer. Maybe the EU is needed to push Germany in a direction which is fairer to women.

Viviane Reding
Will Viviane Reding have to force Germany's hand?Image: picture-alliance/Wiktor Dabkowski

Author: Laura Döing / cmk, slk
Editor: Michael Lawton