Top-grade students, excelling in academic performance, hard-working and successful in their jobs… yet there is a conspicuous lack of women in top managerial positions. What happens to all the highly-qualified females? Could it be that women are falling into an archaic trap? Does emancipation stand up to reality’s test? Politically incorrect musings on gender, career, family and incentives…
Nothing is more exciting that the filling of top positions. Anything is possible; there is no absurdity that is beyond the limits of imagination. Many factors must be taken into account. The candidates must have the necessary education and training. They must possess the right comportment and demeanor, the right age, charm, experience, knowledge, contacts, and more. And then there are social constraints and pressures that need to be taken into account – like the women’s quota, for example. The decision-makers are spoiled for choice – that is, if they have a choice at all.
The reality is that when it comes to top leadership positions, it is often difficult to find the perfect candidate, whether male or female. And even though both politics and popular opinion have reached a consensus, we are falling short of achieving our social policy goals. Even today, men and women do not occupy an equal share of top positions. Work-life balance and an unwillingness to assume responsibility also help to eliminate many qualified candidates.
Good marks, no careers
In nearly all professions – and especially those which over the past 30 years have introduced a numerus clausus, including the natural sciences, medicine and veterinary medicine, and even banking – women now outnumber men in university admissions. Most go on to successfully complete their degree. Here, at least, it would seem that the preconditions for achieving our social policy goals have been fulfilled.
The existence of this phenomenon is no secret. Young women between the ages of 17 and 19 tend to have better final grades than men. This is a phenomenon which the decision-makers are not permitted to question – it is what it is, and the result is that men and women are not equally represented among university graduates.
And this continues throughout their professional lives. But when it comes to career development, women do not progress as one might expect. Here the author must beg the forgiveness of the strategists of emancipation, for in many cases it would almost seem that women are still hankering after the traditional image of the family. Time and again, and once more this is no secret, many women reach a point in their lives where they wish to start a family. There have even been instances where women decide they wish to marry and then – as the laws of both nature and the emotions of men and women tend to dictate – some even choose the traditional path of child-bearing. And many even then go so far as to wish to raise their children themselves. And this happens despite every emancipatory exhortation and all education and upbringing to the contrary.
The men in the equation may devote an equal share of time in service to the family, but – and perhaps it only seems so to this author – in most instances it seems that it is the women who bear the brunt of child-rearing, while the traditional role of breadwinner falls not entirely coincidentally on the backs of men. After all, this is what most men want, right?
But this is more than just a matter of happenstance; it is even said that some women “select” men who embody this traditional conception of the family. Men who wield sufficient status and earnings to support a family are often highly sought after, even among some highly educated and successful women.
So does this mean that at some point, reality catches up with theory? “The man tends to his career, and the woman tends to the family” – is this still the motto we live by? At least to this author, it would seem this traditional conception of family still predominates among young western European couples, all attempts at inculcation and emancipation notwithstanding. Even a female Chancellor has done nothing to change this.
And once these women feel they have put the years of intensive childrearing behind them, we encounter the next social phenomenon. They may no longer be interested in ascending to the managerial ranks and taking on positions of responsibility. It should be noted that this has nothing to do with education and training, or with lack of professional experience, but is purely a matter of personal choice. This is why many attempts to fulfill the desired quota of women in the boardroom are doomed to failure. This is not simply an impression; it is backed up by the numbers.
The people in charge of making hiring decisions are confronted with a dilemma. They are unable to find suitable female candidates who wish to take on the day-to-day realities of life as a top executive, including between 38 and 50 hours of work. And this is not only true for traditional careers such as head physician in a hospital, or owner of a veterinary practice, but also for other professions as well. For bankers, too, this is a familiar story.
So are women simply not as good as men? Rubbish! Does the traditional family still mean women choose children over careers? Possibly. However, a lack of financial inducement is not the problem. It’s not a matter of incentivizing, in other words, that keeps women out of these positions. It is family responsibilities, work-life balance, and traditional family structures that continue to play a dominant role.
So what should we do if we are unable to find suitable female candidates? Or if due to misguided quota in education and training, we are unable to find suitable male candidates? Should we introduce a quota for men for university subjects that have a numerous clausus for admission? Should we forbid people to pair up, or even to have children? Or should we forbid women to choose men with high earning potential as their prospective mates and fathers of their children?
These are all questions that could prompt intriguing answers. Here again it is important to note that women are not less capable than men. In terms of their education they often outdo men, and they generally match men in their ambitions. But they often fall into an archaic trap, in which reality trumps social policy.
Are women trying to avoid taking on responsibility? No. It is reality that is causing this gender gap in top management. Family comes before professional and career ambitions. This has nothing to do with emancipation but with life – meaning nature, tradition, and social reality. Take the idea of introducing a quota for men in the numerus clausus – a demand for which the author might end up at the stake of women’s emancipation.
Hubert-Ralph Schmitt is CEO of Bank Schilling