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Germany, the Neither-Nor Country

by Natascha Zeljko

Germany has neither a high proportion of women in leadership positions – nor a high birth rate. When it comes to careers and children, Germany is ‘neither-nor’ country. An aspect that almost never appears in the debate on equality. Why is that?

There was a legendary cover story in 2012 in ‘The Atlantic’ – “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, an American political scientist, who became globally famous with this article in one fell swoop. Between 2009 and 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter was the director of policy planning in the US State Department under Hillary Clinton and gave up her top job in Washington to have more time for her two sons. The thesis of her very angry, personal statement: women cannot have both, children and career, they have to choose. This has – no big surprise – naturally triggered controversial debates and once again catapulted the decades of gender debate down the drain. One could also say: To the standard of Germany.

While other countries, Scandinavian above all, have made a clear leap forward in recent decades, nothing has moved significantly in Germany (apart from a binding quota for supervisory boards of listed companies). Germany simply does not find the SHIFT button when it comes to ‘female’. But there is another German peculiarity that is almost never discussed: In Germany, even in 2020, it is not really an either/or question at all. Germany has neither-nor: neither a high proportion of women in leadership positions, nor a high birth rate. This is shown by the figures of the “Frauen Karriere Index” (FKi).

Germany, the Neither-Nor Country
Daten: Internationale Arbeitsorganisation (ILO). Daten für das Jahr 2017 Geburtsraten Statistik Vereinte Nationen Zeitraum (2010-2015).

“The whole discussion about balancing children and career is a dead end. If we go along with the idea that family ruins women’s careers, it would mean that we would be a country with many children. But we don’t have either: neither women in leadership nor children”, explained Barbara Lutz, the founder and managing director of the FKi, in a recent interview with ‘Der Spiegel’. Two countries are interesting in the ranking, each of which has the top scores in the two categories: Latvia has the highest proportion of women in top management with 44.1% (birth rate 1.7%), France the highest birth rate with 1.98% (proportion of women in top management 32.5%). Germany comes last with the lowest values in both dimensions, closely followed by Austria.

The thesis that children are career killers is therefore not tenable in purely mathematical terms – although the issue of compatibility of family and job is, of course, a basic requirement for equality. If we now turn our attention to the companies and put aside the socio-political context at this point, we can see a systemic problem. Women with and without children fall disproportionately out of the organizations – the famous glass ceiling. “These organizations fail systemically”, Barbara Lutz is convinced. “There are predetermined breaking points in companies that prevent women and, with them, other diversity dimensions from thriving. This has to do with a lack of transparency and flexibility and repetitive personnel development. Incidentally, these are the same obstacles that prevent transformation.”

If you discuss this topic with seriousness and the will to achieve sustainable change, you will not be able to avoid this debate – with the corresponding consequences. Then, at some point, a neither-nor can become a ‘this-and-that’. This outcome, admittedly, is filled with American optimism. In this case: Let us take Latvia as a model.

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