How do German companies address questions of gender discrimination? What are the policies and rules related to “equal opportunity” work places? And what’s the state of affairs when it comes to women in leading positions in the public and private sectors? We tried to find answers to these questions during a meeting with the European Academy for Women in Politics and Economy in Berlin and a meeting with the Office for Gender Mainstreaming of the city of Dresden. Aside from learning about the specific programs that these offices and departments offer, we also gained insights into the respective cultural norms underlying the discussions about gender equality. For instance, the EAF works with companies to ensure that qualified women will hear about and take advantage of their support programs after parental leave, which can be up to two and a half years in Germany. The EAF also coaches women in how to stay in touch with their employer to facilitate re-entry after the leave. Furthermore, EAF promotes a more sustainable definition of careers that includes a rethinking of male work schedules in order to achieve a better work-life balance for families.
These goals seemed rather abstract for some in our group. After all, in the US the discussion is still about whether or not a woman (and/or her partner) are even eligible for maternity leave. Moreover, in at least some occupational fields in the US, a work ethic that measures success in hours on the job instead of in a balanced life collides head-on with some of the programs we heard about.