Women’s Day: Which measures really promote equality

Macus van der Vegte, Tijen Onaran

Macus van der Vegte, Tijen Onaran

Urban Zintel / PR BCG

International Women’s Day, always celebrated on March 8th, has existed for more than 100 years. Much has happened in the last 100 years, but full equality between men and women has not yet been achieved. Most of the developments occurred when new laws actively promoted equality. therefore asked two experts for their opinion: Marcus van der Vegte, partner at BCG and head of the BCG Gender Diversity Study, and Tijen Onaran, founder and managing director of Global Digital Women (GDW), author and speaker, looked at each other for the four of us current laws and measures and checked whether their effectiveness.

Stay on board

The “Stay on Board” initiative was started by Westwing founder Delia Lachance, who drew attention to the fact that she lost her seat on the board because she became a mother. Prominent supporters quickly joined. A first draft law was recently presented to ensure that board members in the future can suspend their board mandate in the event of maternity leave, parental leave, caring for a family member or illness – and can continue it later.

Marcus van der Vegte: This law only affects boards of directors of stock corporations who could not exercise liability during their maternity leave. It’s a problem that doesn’t happen too often on average, as most board members are usually older and family planning is done. So it’s a good initiative, but one that only affects a few. The question that arises is what course must be set so that more women get into board positions at all.

Tijen Onaran: In Germany we have a very traditional understanding of roles. Among other things, this is always shown by the fact that board members in particular were forced to choose between family and career for a long time, because they had to resign from their board positions as soon as they went on maternity leave. The obvious way of thinking behind it: job and family don’t go together. Other countries show that it is possible and therefore the “Stay on Board” draft law is the right and important step to achieve real equality and participation! Parents also sit in the boardrooms and so far this reality has obviously hardly been taken into account.

30 percent quota for women on supervisory boards

In March 2015, the Bundestag passed the “Law on Equal Participation of Women and Men in Management Positions in the Private and Public Sector”. It stipulates a quota of at least 30 percent women on the supervisory boards of listed companies that have been newly appointed since 2016. The law on the women’s quota came into force on January 1, 2016.

Tijen Onaran: It doesn’t work without a quota! We have been able to observe over the last few years where voluntariness leads: towards zero. Not achieving the quota on executive boards or supervisory boards is not only a missed goal, but an attitude. An anti-attitude towards diversity. Bayer’s CEO recently announced that the company aims to achieve gender parity at all management levels by 2030. This is an important and correct step and shows that goals are needed. Because: Real change begins with real goals! Diversity must be seen as important in every company as innovation. Too often diversity is still dismissed as a charity project, as something to do something good for women in companies. Diversity makes companies more innovative and creative!

Marcus van der Vegte: The law has taught us an important lesson: there are enough qualified women. Before, that was always a common excuse when a company didn’t have a woman on its board of directors. The quota has therefore improved the proportion of women, but we see a large gap between the Dax30 companies that are in the public eye and, for example, the S-Dax companies, which on average have significantly fewer female supervisory boards.

An extension of the law that was recently passed by the grand coalition – i.e. the quota for women on board members – would only lead to changes in around 50 companies, because it would only affect listed companies with at least three board members. According to our study from November 2020, the actual fulfillment would be, on balance, 29 new female executives in Germany.

Pay Transparency Act

The law to promote the transparency of pay structures is primarily intended to support women in better asserting their right to equal pay for the same work or work of equal value. For this purpose, it provides the following modules: an individual right to information for employees, the request of employers to carry out company inspection procedures and an obligation to report on equality and equal pay. Recently the law was extended to include freelancers.

Marcus van der Vegte: This law is well meant, but not really effective. Less than 1% of workers use it, and works councils say it is not very effective. Less than half of the companies also comply with the statutory reporting requirement. The biggest problem with unequal pay is with management roles: The law often does not apply here because the management positions cannot be compared one-to-one.

Tijen Onaran: You don’t talk about money, they say. But times have changed and must change too! Transparency and equal pay are the be-all and end-all for an inclusive corporate culture. Whether it is permanent or freelance employees: it should not make any difference which employment relationship is involved. Above all, equal pay means equal worth! The topic of equal pay is always about appreciation. And who in a company doesn’t want their own performance to be valued and paid accordingly?

Home office & hybrid working

At no time was home office as widespread as in Corona times. What previously seemed impossible was usually implemented overnight: Employees worked from home. Many companies, both corporations and startups, have already announced that they want to maintain a few days of home office per week even after the end of the pandemic – a so-called hybrid working model.

Tijen Onaran: On the one hand, the home office regulation not only offers opportunities for mothers, but also for fathers and, in general, for parents. Home office without flexibility in people’s minds is useless! We need a real and lived culture change in companies. This also means that managers in particular understand the reality of their employees’ lives and must accordingly create inclusive corporate cultures in which the compatibility of family and work becomes a matter of course. In addition to the question of mandatory attendance, this also includes: When are meetings held? Are there any childcare models on the part of the companies that enable parents to not only see compatibility as lip service, but to be able to live it out? Models such as part-time for men and women or job sharing do not have to be viewed as exotic instruments, but rather count towards the variety of options within companies!

Marcus van der Vegte: Men and women look at the home office differently. While men are happy to have more participation in family life, women stated that it would mean more stress. A successful hybrid work model requires that men and women equally spend days in the office and at home – this would also defuse the problem of women’s lack of visibility. In the past, flexible work models were always cited as drivers of diversity because they would make it easier for people to reconcile family and career. It’s here now, but many executives are still skeptical. A very good example of a company that continues to rely on hybrid working even after the pandemic is Beiersdorf.

General conclusion:

Marcus van der Vegte: “When it comes to diversity in management positions, Germany is only in the middle compared to other European countries. This is due, among other things, to other laws, such as spouse splitting or the fact that one partner can take the entire parental leave alone, which in turn makes it easier for the other partner to forego a career – usually women are still women. Furthermore, a cultural aspect also plays a role when it comes to equality – it has to be anchored in society. ”

Tijen Onaran: “Women’s rights are human rights – only if everyone in Germany stands up for these rights will we have achieved equality!”


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