How the Germany Reunion Anniversary Reminded Me of our Women’s Journey
Recently I attended a conference in Berlin, the capitol of Germany. I stayed at an AirBnB private room because I find it pleasant to interact with local hosts. Like always, we got into the conversation about what each of us is doing for business. I told my host, Inge, about my focus on being a consultant and trainer for Diversity & Inclusion, with a special focus on Gender Diversity. She started to chuckle a bit and then told me, that she and her friends often laugh about this trend.
Inge tells me, that she is a retired doctor whose professional career started in the former Eastern part of Germany. Her experience was that she was never stopped in following this career path, and neither were her female doctor friends. She believed that even if her career in chemistry would have been dictated to her instead of her choice, she would have made the best of it. Inge also shared her view that this was something that worsened for the East after the wall went down; at this point the culture from the West dominated and took over the culture from the East in most cases.
I am not sure how many of you are aware that Germany is celebrating 30 years of reunion this year. In 1989 it was announced that the wall that divided West and East Germany since 1961 (for 28 year) was taken down. It was one of those defining moments where every German still remembers where he or she was exactly when hearing the news of this historic event.
During my years working for an international corporation as the Diversity Manager for EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), the numbers we had on Gender Diversity in all the different countries we looked at confirmed my host’s point of view. There was always a higher representation for females in jobs in all Eastern European countries, which was also reflected in Germany’s Western and Eastern regions. While I certainly don’t want to engage in a political conversation about communism versus democracy, this is something worth noticing.
The employment rate of women in former-East Germany in the year 1989 was at 91%, at that time the highest in the world. Of course, even at that employment percentage, the higher up the ranks we looked, the representation of females dropped significantly. That remains a shared issue that together we need to resolve.
Yet these numbers reveal a huge difference in the role women have played in the working field and some patterns we can still see today. The very traditional role distribution of women staying home taking care of the housework and the men leaving the home to work professionally isn’t an option for over 50% of Eastern women.
There is also a very different perception of women seeing themselves as good mothers while working. In the East, 70% of women are very confident they are good mothers while working; in the West it is only 50% of women who believe this could be true. Looking a bit more at numbers, you can see there was a bit of a spill over in the numbers of children below age 3 that attend kindergarten (German pre-school). In Western Germany in 1990 that number was at 6% and is up now to 30%.
While there is certainly a lot more to say and discuss about this whole topic, there are a couple of things that are worth reflecting on. Overall I notice that it makes me a bit sad to still have conversations where those who seemingly “made it” are laughing at those who did not.
My core belief is that it all starts with each of us making conscious choices about what we want and what is important for us, breaking through the societal stories that surround us, and supporting each other to do the same. That is exactly what we do within the Tiara network: we help women access to what they truly desire and go for it.
One question to ask is: Is this gender diversity work still needed in 2019 and beyond?
Yes! No matter where we look around the world, gender equity is and will still be a tremendously relevant topic for the years to come. Yes, there is a lot that has to do with the need for systems to change. The above is a prime example as it shows what is possible if governments put a focus on reconciling family and work.
It is likewise about the roles we hold and how we are perceived in those roles by ourselves and others. This is where a lot of the unconscious bias aspects play a role and where it will continue to take probably generations to change some of these perceptions.
Actually, there has just been another study that came out here in Germany on the question of whether or not the competencies acquired while being a parent provide an advantage for your professional career. The study shows that men who responded perceive a higher advantage than women do, which translates into increased satisfaction in juggling the career and parent roles. To what degree is our own perception, how we communicate, what we take for granted, or what we value playing a role in the choices we make — and the choices we see available? This is challenging to measure, yet worthy of continued dialogue. it’s challenging to measure the impact of our belief system, yet it’s worthy of discussion.
There is an abundance of information here for discussion, and I want to encourage all of us to keep thinking about the choices we make every day, the support we give to each other in an uplifting way, and the role we play in being role models for everyone around us, particularly for the future generations. This journey is an ongoing journey, and we are all sitting in the same boat together.
Sources for numbers and study:
The belief at the core of my business, Raven Business Transformations, is that fairness and respect lead to engagement, creativity, flourishing and growth — all of which, in turn, lead to bottom-line success. As a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) consultant, I roll up my sleeves and help organizations bring greater fairness and respect to their workplace.