Women Leaders Index Gender Equality Case Study: Germany

By on 05/09/2017 | Updated on 27/02/2018

Every country has a different story to tell on women leaders in the civil service. Interviewing experts on the findings of our Women Leaders Index – which tracks the proportion of female senior civil servants, national politicians and business leaders in G20 and EU member states – we’ve examined the agenda’s achievements and the remaining obstacles in 11 national case studies

A 2001 law in Germany required federal public departments to support equal opportunities through, for example, flexible working practices, and by giving priority to female candidates where they are under-represented.

The law has since been strengthened. According to a 2014 OECD report called Women, Government and Policy Making in OECD Countries, in Germany women are entitled to preference in the selection process. Public bodies are nowadays required to hire women in at least 12.2% of top management and 14.1% of middle management appointments.

These quotas are having an effect. In the last four years, the percentage of women in Germany’s senior civil service has doubled from 13% to 26.4% – bringing Germany up to the G20 average figure.

From a relatively low base, Germany has made faster progress than the G20 nations’ average on getting women into senior civil service roles. It has now hit the G20 mean figure, and its growth looks steady.

Michael Bauer, the Jean Monnet Professor of Comparative Public Administration and Policy Analysis at the German University of Administrative Sciences, suggests that the reason the numbers of women making it to senior positions in public service has historically been so low is because the pipeline of upwardly-mobile middle managers has been dominated by men.

However, now that female participation in the labour market generally is increasing, the proportion of women coming through is growing. Bauer says that in Germany the ‘breadwinner’ model dominated for many decades, with men taking full-time roles to support non-working spouses and children; indeed, the German tax system encouraged women to stay at home and bring up the kids.

“This traditional model has been overcome only after the student revolution and subsequent societal changes,” Bauer says. “The German public service has become more female, more part-time, more heterogeneous, mirroring trends in society. There are also positive discrimination policies in place, and the state as an employer needs to follow the regulations or recommendations for the economy as a whole. So positive action in view of promoting women has been more seriously tackled, and the job security – being able to come back after giving birth – and the requirement for the state as employer to accept all kinds of part-time arrangements, has made the public service a very attractive workplace for women.”

Bauer adds that top civil service positions are “still to a large extent in the hands of male lawyers from an upper-middle-class background”, but this partly a function of the time taken for a more diverse intake to percolate up through public bodies. “For women to build careers you need some time,” he says. “We shall see in 10 or 15 years what the leadership positions’ distribution among men and women looks like.”

Meanwhile, Germany is taking firm action on women in business. In November 2013, the federal government introduced a 30% quota for women on the boards of DAX-listed companies; at the last count, women comprised 24.2% of directors.


Click here for the full results of Global Government Forum’s 2016-17 Women Leaders Index

Or click through to our case studies on Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Turkey and the UK.

About Tania Mason

Journalist and an expert in organisational and management issues.

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