Frauenquote: the Biggest Gender Uprising in Germany Since Bra Burning?

Regina Mehler, Founder & CEO of the Women Speaker FoundationAlyssa Jade McDonald-Baertl looks at the Frauenquote discussion in Germany, which proposes using skills as the voice for equality, rather than rights or ratios, and highlights two organisations at the forefront of the movement.

For background, if you want to put the diversity and women in business topic under a microscope, then Germany is the place to look at. Not like anywhere else in the world do you see a “demanded equality” like you do with the Frauenquote (Women’s Quota) in the land typically known for clear policy. If you’re state-side or UK oriented, you might not have heard mostly German-language focused arguments in the last two years which, in my opinion, represent the biggest uprising of gender topics since the bra was burned, and contraception pill became freely available in this country.

Incidentally, it is not about rights, it is about recognition of chance, and that is where you see the current debate of Frauenquote differ from bra burning and pill prescriptions of our sisters four decades ago.

The premise of the Frauenquote topic is that if women make up half the gender population, then they should have a sizable chunk of the “span of control”, in a respectively equal way.

Since the 1980s the topic of balanced gender representation in society and economics has been on the “European” table. It started with some political bodies implementing a “minimum” ratio of women in leadership positions (*yawn*) in their organisations (*double yawn*). Until recently, this topic has been mostly referred to in relation to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) from the United Nations, which is about non-discrimination.

While there is immense gender inequality in many countries around the world, the luxury position I am fortunate to have in a liberal country like Germany means we can either take this topic and blow it out of proportion (screeching like banshees swinging off light shades demanding a seat at the big kid table) or take the awareness and show how through smarts and contribution, our gender and our EQ is a highly valuable contribution to our socieites and economy.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) showed in it’s Geneva meeting in 2011, that there was a continued discrimination of women in the German labour market and recommended that a set quota in the public sector (and even more closely monitor compliance with the labour laws in the private sector.  The recommendation of a quota was based on the theory that a higher proportion of under-represented groups (such as women) in certain positions is economically relevant.

What happened in the last two years ranges from cat-fight with claws to a call for the emancipation of men.

From my understanding, Frauenquote, is NOT about discrimination, therefore The Top Job doesn’t go to a man or a women, but to the best person for the skill-set and that is irrelevant to gender. Particularly, the topic of Top Job, best job, who’s in charge, boards, supervisory positions have come into play; that a minimum quota of ladies in the leadership positions of this country is an answer to improved company performance and corporate culture because it would reflect a natural reflection of the true population it serves. 

In Germany, you can see that during times of questioning and nabelshauen (navel gazing, often referred to as a national past-time) over socio-economic pillars, there are two organisations who have stand out due to their ability to position skill and engagement at the top of their agenda, and not gender. Although, et voila, they do happen to be women. 

1. Digital Media Women

Carolin Neumann, Co-Founder of Digital Media Women  Digital Media Women is a professional network of women working in typically male-dominated fields. Founded by a group of ladies who collaborated together, co-founder Carolin Neumann explained they started with a clear focus on digital media in Hamburg, which was historically the swivel chair epicentre of new communications and innovation for the country. What started as ladies helping each other, turned into a professional networking group, which turned into an organisation that reaches beyond the original industry to actively drove multi-disciplinary discourse and “invited the men”, rather than the other way around. 

Carolin says they “work in and with power”: as social media managers, web and graphic designers, online journalists, bloggers, programmers and in many other areas of the digital communication sphere. The DMW make women more visible in the digital industry and use intensive networking as the key tool. Members meet regularly to jointly promote professional projects to learn new input, to give each other advice and recommendations or just exchange ideas. The DMW are on top of industry trends and tips and keep their team well informed and connected to the hot points of opporuntiy and interest.

One of the ways that the group has been able to get women an integral and clear voice in Germany has been through bringing more women to the podiums of the male-dominated world conferences.

Inken Meyer, Kixka Nebraska, Carolin Neumann, Taalke Renken, Sanja Stankovic and Nicole Willnow spearhead the organisation in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne.   

2. Women Speaker Foundation

Regina Mehler (main image), founder and CEO of the Women Speaker Foundation, had often found she was the only woman invited to speak at trade shows, congresses and panel discussions during her executive corporate career in Germany. She always wondered why, because she knew so many great women, but didn’t see them ‘on top’ at leadership positions or events.  Regina set up the Women Speaker Foundation to drive change and raise the public profile of women by actively promoting highly qualified women in the marketplace for speakers, by engaging in effective marketing and continuous PR, and by nurturing new talent through professional coaching.

The Foundation is allergic to gender monocultures and also has a program that is enabling and coaching fast-track ladies into board positions and board support at multi-national corporations. The team has learned and seen very quickly that the best way to impact Frauenquote is not to complain about the lack of women in leadership activities (events or boards) but to cultivate an environment which nurtures women to find their voice, be proud of it, and break through the barriers (which are often self-imposed) to bring their gifts to their company, market or community.

Regina has seen first hand, that one of the reasons why women are under-represented economically in positions of power is a combination of chance, AND courage.

This is a delicate topic and way, which she and her team at the WSF have developed a leading edge on.

The Women Speaker Foundation has their annual Summit next week in Munich (September 13) and tickets are still available http://www.women-speaker-foundation.de/summit_2013

Alyssa McDonald-Baertl  is the founding MD of BLYSS GmbH. The name BLYSS comes from the English word „bliss“, which literally describes a state of profound happiness and joy. Alyssa Jade felt the fusion of bliss and her own name, Lyss, was a commitment to bringing joy into the world via a consciously-indulgent gourmet experience and evolving business methods to bring communities forward together, from addressing diabetes in the Gulf to standards of living in South America. For more information on Alyssa, see her profile. 

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