Sunday, July 10, 2011

German Mothers and Gendernomics

The IHT journalist Katrin Bennhold provides her latest work on mothers in the German workforce -- or rather, their absence.

Only 14 percent of one-child mothers return to full-time work once the baby is born, she notes, and a mere 6 percent of mothers stay full-time after two children. In a culture still defined (tragically, says Bennhold) by the old adage of “kinder, küche, kirche” -- or “children, kitchen, church” -- women too often stand at the losing end of professional prosperity and the leadership roles available to their male counterparts in what is, despite the ongoing eurozone crisis, one of the world's wealthiest nations.

The gender disparity is not for lack of effort by German women. Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is pointed to as a prominent counter-example when women push for greater equality in the work world. And one of Merkel's cabinet members, Ursula von der Layen, has advocated paternity leave and a quota system for female presence on corporate executive boards.

"Laws help change mentalities," she has said. Adding heft to the German debate from outside, EU vice president Viviane Reding has written to all companies of Germany's DAX stock market, urging increased female visibility in their boards or else risking EU-wide quotas. 

One angle Bennhold mentions -- then leaves disappointingly unexplored -- is the comparison to corporate gender profiles in the United States. Despite the stark contrast between state funding for daycare and other child-oriented services, U.S. boardrooms boast a much greater parity of skirts to suits than Germany can. Behind even such traditionally male-dominated countries as China, Germany scores a paltry two percent of females on executive committees. 

Courtesy New York Times

And Bennhold leaves another, more provocative question well wide of her report's scope: what are the social effects on German women who, seeing how steep the ramp is for career and family, forego child-rearing altogether? The author alludes to the consequences, perhaps unwittingly: 

"One of the countries in most need of female talent — at 1.39 the German birthrate is among the lowest in Europe and labor shortages in skilled technical professions are already 150,000..."

The reader is left to wonder what may be revealed by deeper study on what economic, social and emotional effects are wrought on a society that statistically seems anti-family.

EurAmerican has examined Bennhold's work previously, on French mothers and the conditions particular to their role in a neighboring and similarly male-driven culture to that of her native Germany. In each, she interviews a broad sample of feminists and ordinary women.

She would make her good reports better if she practiced her own lesson of gender equality -- by balancing her perspective with more male voices, and considered them in working toward the common goals of not only gender equality, but maximum opportunity, competitiveness and, I dare say, liberty for all.


UPDATE: Progress on the gender front? French think-tanker Dominique Moisi argues that European women may be the continent's best bet for "agents of change," while the EU Parliament backed a non-binding agreement on July 7 to strengthen obligations for female representation on EU-area executive boards.

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