German Non-Profit Campaigns For More Female Leadership In The Media


The debate about female leadership rages on, and it’s not just an issue confined to certain countries. Even more progressive European nations like Germany and Norway are tackling this issue as equality is something that every woman wants.

The question is: whose responsibility is it to ensure women have more leadership opportunities in the workforce? Should women step up more, or does there need to be a law governing how many women a company must hire? There are arguments both for and against each side. We think it has to be a combination of both, in the hope that one day there will be no need for a government or industry-mandated quota.

But for now, it’s about creating opportunities for greater representation. The more women see others like them in top positions, the more they will be encouraged to pursue these and be the best person qualified for the job. We don’t want hand-outs, we want to be picked because of our merits. No one understands this more than women, but it is a slow process, and to change the traditional standards of hierarchy which have largely belonged to men for so long, it will mean a few teething problems along the way.

In 2013 it was announced that Germany will be introducing new legislation that will require firms to allocate 30% of non-executive board seats to women, starting from 2016. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) parties worked with the Social Democrats (SPD) in a move they believe would be a breakthrough for German women.

“This is an important signal to improve the career chances for women and for greater equality in the labor market,” said Manuela Schwesig, who led the talks for the SPD.

Women currently hold about 12 percent of corporate board seats, according to German media reports. Among the 30 largest DAX companies, women have 22 percent, according to the DSW, Germany’s largest association of private investors. In 2012 the European Commission tried to implement a ruling which stated that companies across the EU with more than 250 workers would be required to have 40% of women on their boards by 2020. But Germany rejected the proposal saying it would be better to have something at a national level.


In 2003, Norway (not an EU member) imposed a similar 40% quota, which was reached by 2009, and apparently a Norwegian company can be liquidated if they don’t reach this percentage. Ouch! According to some reports, this quota system has not fared well for Norwegian companies, where the companies are going bust because they think companies are having to compromise on highly skilled workers due to requirements to fill a quota.

However in a country like Rwanda, previously ravaged with war and genocide, after rebuilding from the ground up with women as the key demographic because they were primarily the ones left behind, they have a 30% rule for their government from local all the way up to federal. As a result, today it is the country with the highest number of women in politics (64%), and it is a third world country! So there is no way to say a mandated quota law is altogether bad, as it depends of the current climate of the country, what they are trying to achieve, and how they go about that.

Let’s be honest, no woman wants to be marginalized and picked out of “pity” for a job. She wants to be chosen because she is the most qualified, rather than make it about gender. However it is not just a one way street as far as getting more women in these top positions. There are other industries where women are raising their voices with anger at being overlooked for certain job opportunities. The argument that “not enough women are stepping up to the place” can only go so far, as seen in the ongoing discussion about female directors in Hollywood and why studios are not hiring them.

In light of the German government-led mandate, a non-profit group is now rallying for more provisions for women in leadership at the top of media companies. More women at the top of media companies means more decisions and more visual imagery put out that favors women in a positive empowering light, rather than an objectified manner.

According to an article by the Student Reporter “More women at the top” is the slogan for Pro Quote, who have been joined by men and women in the German media industry, demanding there be a quota for women.


In an open letter, the organization claimed that only 2 percent of all chief editors of the 360 German daily and weekly newspapers are women. Also, only three of the 12 directors of public service broadcasting are female. Media representative say diversity means quality content, and also allows for a more creative, efficient and inspirational work environment.

“A greater variety and diversity in the newsroom—including women as well as migrants—is a starting point for more variety in media content,” said Margreth Lünenborg, a journalism professor at the Free University of Berlin.

In March 2011, 30 German Stock Index companies signed an agreement for a predefined, voluntary target quota, ranging from 25 to 30 percent, to be fulfilled between 2015 and 2020. But in the media, there is no such law. Some argue that making it mandatory could be problematic. According to Alexandra Niessen-Ruenzi, a professor of finance at the University of Mannheim: “If people are hired according to their productivity, a quota would result in the appointment of less skilled workers and eventually hurt the economy.” That would be more of an insult to women than a help.

But Barbara Sieben, a human resources professor at Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg shot down this potential problem saying: “‘In Germany you are not selected just because of your gender but because your qualification and/or your performance is better or similar to a male candidate,” she says. “The companies that choose you should be better off, having recruited the most talented workforce.”

It comes down to demanding equality so that one day, there will be enough females in top positions that quotas and special initiatives won’t be necessary. And to have those representations in the first place there need to be opportunities where women are not overlooked for any reasons relating to gender or stereotypes.

“Girls develop higher ambitions if they observe female role models—that is, women in powerful positions. Observing more women in leadership positions will change the mind-set of what one can achieve as a woman,” said Alexandra Niessen-Ruenzi.

That’s the bottom line. The women who fight for representation and visibility today are paving the way for generations of women tomorrow who hopefully won’t see gender as an issue preventing them from any job in any market. It’s awesome to see the German media folks coming together to rally for an important cause, also pointing out that is it not just a female issue, but a humanity issue. Everyone benefits from diversity.





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