21.8 per cent—that’s the extent of the salary discrepancy between men and women in Germany. In Baden-Württemberg, it’s as high as 27.8 per cent. This gender pay gap is partially due to more women than men working in part-time jobs or poorly paid professions. “You simply can’t dismiss the correlation between lower income and gender,” emphasises Maren Haag from the Department of Equality and Diversity at the Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences. In her opinion, the problem has little to do with conscious discrimination. “But we are all conditioned socially and we act accordingly—consciously and subconsciously. We hear certain narratives and empty phrases again and again.” One example she gives is the saying “A child belongs with its mother.”
This has led many of her female students to consider only those jobs that are readily reconciled with family life. Moreover, women often don’t believe they would be capable of performing well in certain positions. To change this, Maren Haag’s main job is supporting female students in their career planning. Part of this is the WoMent² mentoring programme, which gives the University’s female students and doctoral candidates the opportunity to engage in a one-year tandem partnership with a mentor. In addition to getting a glimpse of the day-to-day work of a leader in the business or science sector, mentees also benefit from their mentor’s experience. One of the partners providing mentors is Bechtle.
Each year, 30 particularly high-performing women take part in this programme. “But it’s not all about having good marks. The deciding factor is their commitment,” says Maren Haag. “Special circumstances such as caretaking, parental responsibilities, illness and migration experience are taken into account.”
Even large, modern companies like Bechtle find it difficult to maintain a balanced gender ratio, especially in leadership positions—despite the increase in highly-qualified women. The proportion of women in IT companies is 27 per cent and that of women in leadership positions just 13 per cent. For the past two years, various teams have been working on increasing this number. In 2019, Bechtle’s headquarters played host to Germany’s first-ever Superwomen Academy meeting. This initiative helps companies gain more female employees using many different methods, including analysing external communications and designing a company’s employer communications and image to make them equally attractive to women and men. Wendy Broersen, from the Netherlands, has been marketing this concept for three years.
The event at Bechtle’s headquarters was aimed mainly at raising awareness among HR decision-makers. But if the proportion of women in companies is truly to be increased, more must be done than merely communicating a goal. Awareness must be raised about the benefits of mixed-gender teams, incentives must be created that specifically support the development of female leaders and effort must be made to proactively network with women on LinkedIn, for example, thereby demonstrating one’s interest in team diversity to people outside the company.
Good teams are diverse.
During the Superwomen Academy event, the challenge of achieving gender balance in HR departments and executive management was demonstrated using the game Equalitypoly. The goal of the game was to attract as many women as men, represented by pink and black chips, respectively. To do this, players had to make a series of decisions that would impact team diversity either positively or negatively.
One example of a problem addressed was that not a single woman applied in response to a particular job advert. What should HR decision-makers do? Work with a PR agency to craft a women-friendly message for the general public? Hire an HR consultant? Or, better yet, rewrite the job advert to make it appealing to women?
This last strategy is the most promising. Explaining the ideas and studies underpinning it, Wendy Broersen says, “Women don’t apply to masculine job adverts.” She emphasises that the problem lies not with the specific job title, but rather with how its description is structured and worded. For example, women are less likely to respond to words like “strategic” or “skilled” than to “insightful” or “communicative”. Long lists of desired skills can also be a deterrent as many women will avoid responding if they can’t fulfil them all. By contrast, men usually respond even if they meet only two or three of the criteria.
To increase its appeal to women, Bechtle has for some time now eschewed the typical masculine images of an IT setting. Instead, its employer communications uses jaunty, future-focused pictures depicting men and women equally. Wendy Broersen is convinced that more female representation helps not only women but also the companies that employ them: “Revenues are higher and communication is better when there are women in leadership positions.” And that, she adds, is not her personal opinion but the result of numerous studies.
Published on Sep 26, 2019.