Women Quotas In Workplace: When Young Men Pay For Fathers' Sins

Op-Ed: The new generation of German businessmen is the most female-friendly in history. Yet they are the ones who stand to lose if Germany’s older, chauvinistic business leaders decide to address the problem of workplace inequality with female quota laws.

Women on the rise (mirimcfly)
Women on the rise (mirimcfly)
Clemens Wergin

A few weeks ago, in this column, writer and political journalist Miriam Hollstein wrote about why she supports job quotas for women. She feels it is about time that decisive measures be taken to put more women in managerial positions.

Surely no one will dispute this. The working world in Germany must indeed welcome more women, particularly in higher-level positions. But at what cost? Though it is seldom discussed, the steps needed to achieve full equality of the sexes across society often work out to be unjust to individual segments of that society. What makes sense for the collective can make a lot less sense when it breaks down to the impact such a policy can have on specific lives. In this case, it boils down to the fact that widespread affirmative action for women will have a direct impact on career advancement for men in a certain age group.

Check out companies that either already have quotas for leading positions or have ambitious policies to further women's careers, such as Die Welt's publisher, Axel Springer AG. The people who suffer from this are men in the 30 to 40-year-old age group. Perplexed, they look around, and ask: What about us? The problem is that after neglecting equal opportunities for women for so long, many German companies are now overcompensating.

Strong measures are necessary to bring about the desired result, and to do it rapidly. But as a result, men who are starting out, or nearing the middle of their career paths are seeing their own chances of advancement negatively impacted.

The irony of the situation is that the expected increase in dramatic policies designed to give women a fair shot is going to impact a generation of men who were headed in that direction anyway. This is a generation that, in many cases, has internalized the idea of equal opportunity for women and values working in mixed-gender teams. These are men who, in their roles as partners and fathers, behave very differently from their fathers.

One example of that is the growing demand for paternity leave. A quarter of German fathers set time aside to care for their children, and figures in Bavaria, Berlin and Saxony reach 30%.

I am not trying to idealize this generation of younger men. There can be no doubt that there's a lot to improve in both professional and private spheres. But there can also be little doubt that this is the generation of men that is the most partnership-oriented and friendly towards women of any in German history. And now, if many German business leaders have their way, they are going to have to pay for the sins of their fathers.

Older males still hold sway, younger ones pay

Tellingly, the measures will be decided by older managers who hail from the chauvinistic culture that used to prevail in German companies. They've worked their way up without giving much thought to the misogynistic atmosphere that prevailed in German business and without promoting and supporting talented women.

Having reached the top, they find themselves in a work environment almost entirely devoid of women—a situation that now threatens to damage their company. Now, driven by policies to rectify that glaring absence, they once again demonstrate a complete disregard – only this time toward the younger men who must pay for what the previous generation neglected to do.

It's always easier to take tough measures when one is not personally affected by them. The verve with which equal opportunities for women are being addressed is really less of a gender issue than it is an issue among different generations of men—between top managers and leading politicians, which is to say decision-makers, and the up-and-coming generation of men who stand to be affected by those decisions.

Having more women in leadership roles in Germany will be good for everybody. There is nothing worse than male-only executive ranks unchecked by a civilizing female presence. Too much of one thing, whether it be gender, social or ethnic background, is a deterrent to creativity. But it is surely not admissible that the generation of men least responsible for the problem of job inequality should be the one to suffer most from measures taken to redress the problem.

To be absolutely clear: I don't want to be the victim of quotas. I reject the idea that it is mainly men of my generation who will have to bear the brunt of quota measures, and that the generation of men who got us into this mess will largely be able to walk away from it unscathed.

Read the original article in German

photo - mirimcfly

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