Women′s Challenging Climb to the Top | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 18.04.2006
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages


Women's Challenging Climb to the Top

Women in Europe are generally better educated than men, but hold fewer top positions. Germany is no exception. Just why is the fairer sex excluded from the echelons of power?


Are a career and a family compatible?

Men are virtually on their own in Germany's executive offices. According to a current study by the EU statistics office Eurostat, women only hold 10.4 percent of the top positions in the German business world.

The share of women in leading management has more than doubled in the past decade. Yet that glass ceiling -- which invisibly but effectively hinders women's rise to the top -- continues to be present.

Telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, for example, has increased its share of women in overall leading positions to 17.5 percent. But women are significantly underrepresented in top management, said Maud Pagel, Deutsche Telekom's representative for equal opportunities and diversity. On that level, the quota of women is only four percent.

Of the German companies listed on the stock market index DAX, not one has a female management board member.

"The obstacle is the myth"

There are various reasons for this development. In Germany, in particular, it is consistently argued that a career and a family don't go well together. Often, however, the argument is itself the reason.

"The obstacle is the myth, which says that both areas are not compatible," said Andrea Löther from Bonn's Center of Excellence Women and Science. This means that when senior staff believes that a career and a family don't mix, then they will support women less than men.

Familie mit Kleinkindern

Many men would also like to change their role as breadwinner

In the course of the political correctness movement, it has been repeatedly stressed how important women in leading positions are in the business world. In practice, though, the traditional thought patterns often still prevail, although studies have shown that young men also want to get away from this role of being the breadwinner, Pagel said.

"Women maybe have to learn something, too: to have more guts to say that they want top positions," Pagel said.

Diversity is the key

Professional expertise and determination alone are not enough to increase the number of women in top positions, though. In the 1990s, measures to promote women focused on the compatibility of career and family.

Deutsche Telekom Logo

Deutsche Telekom wants more diversity among its staff

Today, companies are waging more on qualification and personnel development. Equal opportunity here is also essential for Deutsche Telekom, Pagel said. Diversity is the key in personnel strategies: differences in sex, age, religion, lifestyle and social class are considered the factors for success -- economically, too.

Today, work-life balance and diversity are the key topics in personnel policies for many companies. In the United States, studies have shown that those companies which employ women in top positions, thus fulfilling the diversity aspect, are more profitable.

EU favors gender management

The model favored by the European Union for equal opportunity personnel policies is gender management. It is mainly aimed at equal opportunities for women and men as a societal task. It does not orientate itself primarily on economic demands.

Pagel said people often forget that diversity -- also an employee's sex -- can have business-related effects, as clients are just as diverse.

"For this reason, one should develop products, processes and measures to serve these clients' demands," Pagel said. Yet companies still had quite a bit of awareness raising ahead of them.

Many successful and mainly multinational companies have increasingly put the question of sex and diversity on their agenda in the past few years. Last but not least because there is a lack of qualified specialists and managers in many sectors.

But also given demographic developments, which will lead to a labor shortage in the medium-term: women are considered the "intelligence reserve" without whom nothing will work in the future. That gives hope. Even if there's still a long way to go until women have reached a quota in top management in Germany where one could talk of equality.

DW recommends

WWW links