German Female Executives Stretch For Glass Ceiling

German Female Executives Stretch For Glass Ceiling

While women in western countries worry about hitting a business ‘glass ceiling,’ German female executives find the glass out of reach. Given the sacrifice, social disdain, and hard work, few women approach the German glass ceiling.

Upon joining a German company, the atmosphere was warm and gracious. At the first major management team meeting, I noticed only three of the thirty of more of us were women. Within a couple of years only one remained.

German businessmen struggle to imagine a woman beyond the traditional family head of household. ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’ – children, kitchen, church is the time-honored female role. That philosophy remains on the minds of some key German leaders. When asked if Germany should establish quotas for women on business boards, Deutsche Bank CEO, Joseph Ackerman, admitted no women sat on the DB Board, but added, “But I hope that it will one day be more colorful – and prettier, too.” Of the 30 major companies that comprise the German stock exchange, DAX, only three women sit on their boards.

I spoke about women in German management with two of my female colleagues. Becoming a German female executive requires a clear choice between family and career. Both were single. Those that attempt to work and raise a family become Rabbenmutter, or raven mothers. German society does not support women who sacrifice a child’s well-being for a career.

Those that forsake motherhood must work harder than their male colleagues must. The German business culture believes overtime is a sign of inefficiency. Both of my colleagues worked late into the night in an attempt to outperform male counterparts.

There long hours and successes did not necessarily enrich them. A 2009 survey by the German Institute of Economic Research (DIW) found women managers made 25% less than males in comparable jobs. While my German female colleagues accepted the gap, women executives in our American division demanded and received comparable pay.

The environment is slowly changing for German female executives. Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female executive. Deutsche Telekom is the first company to apply quotas with a goal of 30% of management positions to going to women, worldwide, by 2015. Germany, a rules and law culture, is implementing stronger sexual harassment in the workplace laws. Perhaps both the environment and opportunities for women managers in Germany is about to transform.

I spoke with the surviving female executive at my former German company. She is the Chief Marketing Officer. One of her key lieutenants is a woman. As young women look-up and see a few German female executives touching that high glass ceiling, perhaps more will stretch.

Mark Weber is an international business professor in Rochester, NY, who traveled the world on behalf of the Eastman Kodak Company and Heidelberger Druckmachinen. Having visited Germany over eighty times, Weber brings a unique perspective on the customs, attractions, transportation options, language, and food.

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