Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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.


Three Things I Love About Work

So I’m back in full time work for the first time this century, and I am loving it. Here are some of the things that are particularly good about it:

1. The salary. The way it lands miraculously in my bank account all by itself, with my having to decode mysterious invoicing procedures and eke it along through opaque processes known only to one person in Switzerland, is lovely.

2. The finite nature of tasks. I do something, submit it to the relevant person who makes changes or not and then it is complete, giving me a warm glow of achievement. Unlike the laundry or the dishwasher, which coil outwards in unforgiving spirals of repetitiveness, giving me the feeling that I need to go and lie down.

3. The craic. Here are two examples:

Charlotte: Sneeze.

Colleague: Bless you.

Charlotte: Sneeze.

Colleague: Bless you.

Charlotte: Sneeze!

Colleague: Bless you for the whole day.

Or this one:

Colleague A: My dream holiday would be a food tour of India, trying all the different regional specialities and tasting everything.

Colleague B: You mean a gastric tour.


In other news, it is Women’s Day in South Africa on Tuesday and the revolution is far from over. There is work to be done, sisters and brothers!