Women in the Workplace: A Global Perspective

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In April Germany’s parliament rejected a law that would have mandated gender quotas on the supervisory boards of domestic corporations. The original motion in the Bundestag called for a female quota to be introduced in two steps. It envisioned the creation of a minimum quota of 20 percent for supervisory boards starting in 2018. 1

Germany opposes the mandatory, EU-wide requirements in favor of having individual nations devise their own strategies to boost the number of women in leadership positions. 2

I became familiar with these discussions because I am currently doing a marketing internship with a pharmaceutical company in Munich, Germany that has global branches all over the world.  I expected to be working predominantly with men, having read that, while “Swedish executive suites boast 17 percent women and the United States and Britain 14 percent, in Germany it is 2 percent.”3 and that in Germany “a traditional perception of motherhood lingers.” 4 When I arrived, I was surprised by the number of women I was working with; women make up the overwhelming majority in my office, with three of my superiors all being women. I was recently talking with my boss´ boss (who once jokingly assured me that there are in fact men at the company, despite the number of women in our department), and I learned that many Germans are not in favor of the quota laws. She herself was of the opinion that such quota laws would undercut those women that had earned positions of authority through merit.   I have heard this fear echoed by most of the women I have spoken with; namely that men could easily write-off a woman as having a position of authority only as a consequence of the quota requirement.

The EU quota discussion is reminiscent of the conversation occurring in the US that is being voiced by female executives like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recently published her book entitled Lean In, in which she advocates that women take a more proactive role in pursuing executive positions. She believes that women must be the force that changes the gender representation of executive positions, which is in stark contrast to the EU position of legally mandating such change.

A recurring theme in the various discussions is that family and school structure must be altered in order to allow for more females in executive positions. In Asia, for example, “cultural attitudes toward child care and household tasks further complicate the challenges for corporate pioneers.” 5 In her provocative article published in the Atlantic magazine, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne Marie Slaughter also eludes to the fact that school schedules must be changed to better align with work schedules. Her assistant rightly points out that, “The present system, is based on a society that no longer exists—one in which farming was a major occupation and stay-at-home moms were the norm.” 6 Similarly in Germany, “most schools still end at lunchtime, a tradition that dates back nearly 250 years. That has powerfully sustained the housewife/mother image of German lore.” 4 Gradually, however, this is changing and in 2003, “the government, Social Democratic at the time, made available €4 billion, or $5.7 billion, to introduce all-day programs at 10,000 schools by 2009. In the end, some 7,200 schools took part, joining a small existing stock.” 3

Whether government regulation or self-advocacy will prove more effective has yet to be seen, but the EU regulations reflect that this is a situation that is being faced globally– and one that extends far beyond cultural borders.

A great resource for where we stand globally on the issue can be found:

http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/the_global_gender_agenda.

Lara Tromba

Johns Hopkins University

  1. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-rejects-law-requiring-board-quotas-a-895238.html
  2. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/germany-to-lobby-against-eu-gender-quota-a-887174.html
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/world/europe/18iht-women.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/world/europe/18iht-women.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&
  5. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/the_global_gender_agenda
  6. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/2/
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