Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Are quotas really so bad?

Stats from earlier this year show that Germany is doing really badly at getting women into senior management – not to mention paying women significantly less than their male counterparts. Angela Merkel has mooted quotas, a concept I support whole-heartedly. What surprises me, however, is how little support for quotas I am seeing in the workplace.

People say things like, “I would never want to be promoted just because I am a woman. I want to be promoted on merit.” or “Quotas are insulting. We don’t need them.”

I notice that the women who dismiss quotas are usually in some kind of a management position already or who have strong technical qualifications and experience – people who have already fought a hard journey to secure their positions. They have made sacrifices to get there: had no children or only one, paid a premium for childcare, worked long hours, perhaps worked harder than anyone else, sacrificed their personal lives. It is these people who, understandably, aren’t happy to see others swing in on the liana branch of quotas and grab jobs similar to those they have nearly killed themselves for.

For those who have taken on the patriarchy at great personal cost, and won, it doesn’t seem fair to then hand out jobs like so many bananas to others. I get that.

I have two counter-arguments:

1. Men have had a quota system in place for 2,000 years. They have been handed bananas, many have been promoted above their skill sets – because there was no-one else there. The other half of the potential work population was elsewhere, fulfilling their “biological destiny”. There was no competition.

It’s time for some reciprocity.

2. The only way to fight the patriarchy is to break it. The system will never change unless there is radical action and the only radical action I can see that will enforce and inscribe change is the introduction of quotas.

I am South African, and for the last 18 years, South Africa has had a radical system of affirmative action to counteract the injustices of apartheid that privileged white people over black people. People weren’t going to hand over jobs out of the goodness of their hearts. It had to be systematic.

It’s the same with gender. We can talk diversity until we are blue in the face, but until there is systematic change – a quota – the patriarchy will continue to feed itself the bananas.


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Working and Raising a Family

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by by Anne-Marie Slaughter might just be the best article on the topic of working and raising a family that I have ever read. Read it! (It’s long.)

Here’s one of many quotable quotes:

The best hope for improving the lot of all women, and for closing what Wolfers and Stevenson call a “new gender gap”—measured by well-being rather than wages—is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.

Hat tip to Rachel Happe, whose own post is not shabby.

ETA: Slater’s article seems to be going viral. I’m seeing links to it everywhere, which means it has touched a nerve. Here are a couple of posts from my blogroll:

Why women can’t have it all, why they’re not to blame and how we can make it better by lovely Aussie feminist blogger Bluemilk

Where in the world can women have it all? by Expat Writer Chantal

The ever-fabulous Twisty goes for the jugular.

My good friend Courtney is very thoughtful about That Article.

The lovely Belgian Waffle, now of Ireland.


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2011 in First Lines

It is traditional here at Charlotte’s Web to review the past year in blogging by posting the first lines from the first post of every month. Having scrolled through my 2011 posts, one thing is clear to me: life took over from blogging this year. After moving house in January, I spent many long hours revising Balthasar’s Gift, many hours pounding the pavements training for the Mannheim team marathon, many hours planning and giving two weekend-long creative writing workshops at Heidelberg University and then, in July, starting a six-month job posting at one of my customers replacing someone out on maternity leave. It was quite a year!

January: So I’ve reviewed my goals for 2010 and found them to be good.  Ten Things for 2011

February: One of the most appealing things about Germany is its cafe society; places where you can nurse a coffee, read a book and watch the world go by.  Cafe Society

March: Today is the anniversary of the death of Herbert James Downs, who was murdered in South Africa a few weeks after his 100th birthday.  In Memory of Herbert James Downs

April: Life has taken over from blogging – nothing serious, but an accumulation of things over the past three months that have left me exhausted.   Hiatus

May: May is turning out to be quite the month chez moi, which means my presence here at Charlotte’s Web will continue to be vague, scattered and somewhat erratic.  May Madness

June: While reading to the creative writing students about voice this weekend, I found myself getting a little choked up.  More on Voice

July: I’ve just come back from a week in Mallorca, having found its quiet, laid-back corner (it still exists) and am feeling horizontal.  Feeling Horizontal

August:  So I’m back in full time work for the first time this century, and I am loving it.  Three Things I Love about Work

September: Still loving work, so that’s a good thing.  On Women and Work

October: My grandmother was not only an angel, but she was more than a little fey. Survival Skills

November:  My life has changed exponentially – and for the better – since I re-entered the working world. What Feminist Motherhood Means to Me (Now)

December: The theme of today’s World AIDS Day is ‘Getting to Zero’ (zero new infections; zero discrimination; zero AIDS-related deaths)’.    World AIDS Day 2011 – Are There Any Good News Stories?

What was your 2011 like?


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On Women and Work

Still loving work, so that’s a good thing. My kids are on summer break and I have imported my lovely mother from South Africa to be au pair. She is doing a stirling job: they get up around 9am, lurk in their pyjamas until lunch, eat and then head out at a leisurely pace to – depending on the weather – the library, the pool or the water playground on the banks of the Neckar. It is entirely stress-free.

It’s also stress-free for me. I waltz out of the door in the morning, knowing that all is well. If someone falls and hurts themselves (or like yesterday, get a thousand tiny splinters in their elbow), their grandmother will kiss them better and offer comfort. If someone is hungry, an appropriate snack will be found. If clothes are dirty, clean ones will be provided. If a new entertainment is required, it will be found.

But more than just providing an efficient baby-sitting service, their grandmother loves them. And what privilege it is for me to go to work knowing they are in the care of someone who loves them as much as I do.

This is the privilege women have been providing men for generations, and nowhere more than here in west Germany where an idealised form of motherhood has dominated the culture. Women stay home with their small children, punkt.

Getting back into the workplace in a meaningful way in Germany is hard. In an article in The New York Times, journalist Katrin Bennhold says that only about 14% of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6% of those with two.

Many things stop mothers going back to work fulltime: the lack of proper fulltime affordable childcare, school that close their doors at lunchtime, a tax system that subsidizes income inequality. Most of the women I know work, but it’s almost always part-time.

So if we can’t get women back into full time work, how do we get them into management?  Despite a “decade of earnest vows from the corporate sector” (including Deutsche Telekom’s very laudable voluntary goal of 30% female managers by 2015), Deutschland AG remains male-dominated: women make up 2% of corporate boards, all 30 DAX companies are run by men and there was only one woman on a supervisory board, but she recently “resigned”.

There is furious national debate about quotas. Politicians moot it, Deutschland AG pays lip services to equality but resists and the few women in high-profile positions swear that the only way to get there is merit.

Bennhold quotes German anthropologist Julia Allmendinger, author of several studies on women in the former East and West, who says that state intervention appears to be most effective in battling stereotypes. Women in east Germany – where the former Communist system established full time daycare and encouraged women the work – are more mobile, more likely to have babies and reach management positions than women in the west.

Allmendinger calls for strong legislative signals.

I do too. After all, it worked for Norway.

And now, I really must go to work.