Working women in Germany

Sabine Dippel sabine at
Mon Jun 10 02:41:51 EST 1996

In article <4p8mhb$n53 at>, "Dougherty, Er.,DE,Diagnostics" 
<DOUGHER1 at> writes:
|> As an American working in Germany, I can whole-heartedly agree with the 
|> women who have posted here about the difficulties of combining career and 
|> children in Germany. When I first came here two years ago, I found the 
|> attitudes almost impossible to believe! Meanwhile, I'm getting used to them. 
|> It has been hard to walk the fine line of living and working in a foreign 
|> culture and not wanting to expect it to be like it is at home; on the other 
|> hand, I don't just want to accept comments and attitudes that I think are 
|> inappropriate.
|>     I would appreciate anyone's advice on how to answer the following:
|> 1. People who think it is "abandoning your children" if you work while they 
|> are young

I don't really know what you can do about that. This opinion prevails in this
country throughout all ages (you hear it from young people as often as from 
older ones), sexes (women raising it even more often than men) and educational
levels. Many people think that the fact that some women just have to work to
help support the family is at the bottom of all problems of modern society 
(be it violence among children and youths or the high divorce rate). 
I usually point out two things in answer to that. First of all, in former east
Germany and in France, most of the children were ("naturally" they closed all
of this down in East Germany after reunification) or are in daycare starting 
at a very young age. They do not seem to have been damaged by this - there are
neither less nor more problems in these countries than here, in France family
bonds are actually very strong and important. Secondly, I had one of these
overprotective mothers who, having seen too little of the "world" while raising
her child, was so afraid of everything that it took me years to get rid of 
all these anxieties she raised me with (completely unconciously). However, 
she always encouraged me that whatever I do with my life "never stop working,
even if all your income gets eaten up by day care". 

Another anecdote about working women, which I heard once in a TV interview
from Rita Suessmuth, former minister for family and social issues, now 
president of the parliament (a post that sounds good, but has practically no
power, where she was moved to because her conservative party started to feel
uncomfortable about what she was trying to do for women). To explain the story
it has to be mentioned that before really entering politics, she (as well as
her husband) was a university professor. 
So one day, she went to the "parents day" of the school her kids attended,
which means you go and see the teachers and talk to them to find out if there
are any problems. One of the teachers, who obviously did not know about her
profession, greeted her with the words: "Well, your children are the best 
example of how well children develop when the mother stays home and devotes
herself to their education."

|> 2. Interview question (absolutely standard here) about how you plan to raise 
|> your family while working full-time. The implication here is that it is 
|> impossible to do this without harming your family or your work.

Lie to them. It is allowed to do so, because this is a discriminating question,
they are not allowed to ask you anything like this, but since it is clear that
by denying to answer it, you are diminuishing the chances to get the job, some
law says that it will have not consequences whatsoever if you lie to a question
like this and your employer finds out about it afterwards. So just tell them 
that they are in daycare, and that you have one of their grandmothers (or some
other relative) living close by to take care of them during the times not
covered by daycare, like vacation, sickness, etc. 

|> 3. Inappropriate jokes, etc. at work. Recently, one of my colleagues was 
|> given a toothbrush that looks like a naked woman as a birthday present. I 
|> said that was inappropriate and left the room, but since then get teased 
|> about being "too sensitive". (I am the only woman in my area, and one of the 
|> only two women in R&D in the whole company.)

I don't want to offend anyone, but maybe americans are really a bit over-
sensitive to that kind of thing. My experience is that it's best to ignore 
it, or answer it with a joke (if you can come up with a good one). I am used
to being the only woman in the institute, and this so far has worked fine 
with me, but then, people have so far rather been thoughtless (like in your
case the colleages who selected the tooth-brush) than outright offensive.

|> These problems occur in the context of a society who has pigeonholed women 
|> into the mother-and-caretaker role so successfully, I just can't believe 
|> that (as another poster joked) it will be better in ten years! Everything is 
|> stacked against women who want a full-time career: from the store hours 
|> (only till 6 or 6:30 on weeknights, and then only Sat mornings on the 
|> weekends) to the motherhood-leave laws that guarantee you a job after you've 
|> stayed home for 3 years. I was actually in a meeting where the director said 
|> "we are absolutely not going to hire any more pre-menopausal women!" It is 
|> just too difficult for the company to have to keep these open positions for 
|> so long.
|> Any suggestions?
|> Thanks,
|> Erika 

I don't have any further suggestions. Actually, I don't really know how I 
will handle these problems when they turn up. At the moment, I am single and
childless, I would like to have a family and a career, but don't know how 
I should manage. Still, since I am kind of picky concerning men and would not
want to raise a child as a single mother if it can be avoided, I don't even
know yet if I will ever have children. So why should I try to have a career
that will allow me to have both (a way in which many german women select their
jobs), if I don't even know yet whether I will have both? Well, I will just 
wait and see, but things here in Germany are not going to change for a very
long time.


| Sabine Dippel     | e-mail: s.dippel at                | 
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