Saturday, May 5, 2007

7 March: The German Glass Ceiling

Well, I suppose it's high time I put my money where my mouth is and got this blog thing started. I'm going to have to backtrack for a while to get caught up, which means my posts for the time being will be titled with the date that they were actually written, despite the fact that I am posting them in May. So, let's turn back the clock to March, March 7 to be exact, and get on with the show.

Today I vowed never again to drive to an IWC meeting (that's the International Women's Club of Stuttgart, to anyone just starting to read my blog). It took me ten minutes to drive there and more than half an hour of aimless circling to find a parking space! This time I must have had to walk for fifteen minutes to get to Café Merlin from my parking spot. And I hate parallel-parking my SLK – I can never tell where the rear end is, and I actually scratched the rear wheel against the curb this time (right in front of someone walking up the street, to my extreme embarrassment). It's times like this that I really miss my Smart forfour. I think I would rather take the U-Bahn, even if it takes an hour because there is no direct way to get to the meeting location from Botnang.

We had a woman from Bosch speak to us today about the “German glass ceiling," which, if you can imagine, sounds even worse than the "American glass ceiling." Only 3% of upper-level positions at Bosch are filled by women - even worse than the ratio at DaimlerChrysler, unbelievable as that may seem! Our speaker managed to work her way up to a high-level management position in the sales department while juggling the needs of her family. She is married with two children and worked part-time while her kids were very young, but has now gone back to full-time because she could not achieve her career goals working part-time. She discussed how important it is to have a work environment that is flexible enough to meet the needs of a working mom – she works half-days in the office most Mondays and Fridays so she can participate in activities with her kids, and makes up the time working at home in the evenings. She said it is very difficult for women to break into the more traditional male-dominated workforce in Germany, especially in technical fields; she has often encountered difficulties in her job because people assume she should have an engineering background in order to sell automotive components. She spent several years in Japan, which certainly improved her confidence and self-sufficiency, and she simply won’t put up with a bad situation. She stressed how important it is to make demands when you have to and walk out of a situation that just won’t improve.

Despite having excellent maternity benefits (you can take 2-3 years off and be guaranteed a job when you return), there are further negatives to being a working woman in Germany...apparently many women of child-bearing age are discriminated against in the hiring process. Basically if you look like you might have a kid in the near future, you won't be hired.

Child care is also a huge issue in Germany for working moms – there simply aren’t enough openings to meet demand, and it is very expensive. School hours are also difficult to deal with even once your children are in school (they seem to have more irregular schedules than we have in the States).

All in all, it was a very interesting discussion. We admired our speaker's determination and stamina, but we all lamented the fact that there are not more flexible options for working mothers.

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