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Through Quotas, a German Nonprofit Campaigns for More Women Media Leaders

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Media workers in Germany have gathered to demand better representation of women at the top. Despite many positive responses, no new law has been implemented, and media companies don’t dare to make commitments. Too few women are involved in decision-making processes in the German media landscape.

"Pro Quote" demonstration in Berlin in April 2013.

flickr / elke_ferner under Creative Commons

‘Pro Quote’ demonstration in Berlin in April 2013.

“Mehr Frauen an die Spitze” (More women at the top), says Pro Quote’s slogan. The nonprofit organization started a campaign in February 2012 demanding a 30 percent quota for women in executive positions in the German media within five years.

In an open letter, the organization claimed that only 2 percent of all chief editors of the 360 German daily and weekly newspapers are women. Also, only three of the 12 directors of public service broadcasting are female. Gender unbalances in editorial boards is visible in other kinds of German media too. However, mixed-leadership teams are more modern, creative, efficient and inspirational, argues Pro Quote, saying, “Quality comes from quota.”

Quotas in Germany

Pro Quote’s call came after the German business paper Handelsblatt announced a 30 percent quota. Editor-in-Chief Gabor Steingart said in a statement that women are “not the problem but the solution,” suggesting that companies perform better when allowing for diversity in their executive boards. According to Margreth Lünenborg, a journalism professor at the Free University of Berlin, “A greater variety and diversity in the newsroom—including women as well as migrants—is a starting point for more variety in media content.”

In March 2011, 30 German Stock Index companies signed an agreement for a predefined, voluntary target quota, ranging from 25 to 30 percent, to be fulfilled between 2015 and 2020. According to Alexandra Niessen-Ruenzi, a professor of finance at the University of Mannheim, this initiative has not been successful so far. “The most recent statistics in 2013 show that the fraction of women in leadership positions is still far below these targets,” she says. “For some companies as low as 2 percent. So far the data do not support the view that there will be a change in Germany based on a voluntary target quota.”

In June of this year, the German minister for family affairs, supported by the justice minister, proposed to implement by 2016 a quota for women in the boardrooms of companies and government offices. In listed companies, women should occupy 30 percent of the management positions, increasing the pressure for reinforcing a female presence in leadership roles.

As part of Pro Quote’s campaign, 383 men and women—from daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, online newsrooms, radio and television—sent an open letter to chief editors, publishers and broadcasting managers, asking them to take action and feminize their boardrooms. Currently, 4,583 people have signed the demand for the quota on Pro Quote’s website. Yet there is still no law requiring a quota in the German media industry.

Not enough women

There are various reasons to argue against a quota. According to Niessen-Ruenzi, opponents argue that, from an economic perspective, quotas impose market friction: “If people are hired according to their productivity, a quota would result in the appointment of less skilled workers and eventually hurt the economy.” The expectation is that unqualified women would be hired because they belong to a favored group.

A so-called “quota woman” might therefore feel that she got the job due to preferential treatment and not primarily because of her competence. According to Barbara Sieben, a human resources professor at Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, this scenario is unrealistic. “‘In Germany you are not selected just because of your gender but because your qualification and/or your performance is better or similar to a male candidate,” say says. “The companies that choose you should be better off, having recruited the most talented workforce.”

Most companies will not compromise on competency, as it is not to their advantage to do so. In some industries it may be more difficult than in others to find competent women due to the lower number of women who are training and being educated in a particular field. However, this is not true for the media industry, and whereas a quota could be useless in other industries, it is anything but appropriate in the media’s case.

Eva Werner, deputy spokeswoman for the German Federation of Journalists, confirms that there are enough qualified women to occupy executive positions in the German media and says a quota is necessary. “‘We are a proponent until we can take it for granted that women get leading positions anyway without problems,” she says.

Patronizing women

Another argument against quotas is that competent women should not have to hide behind their gender. Suggesting that women need help through politics and law to ascend to leadership positions can even be considered patronizing and unnecessarily far-reaching. On the intranet of the RTL Group’s parent company, Bertelsmann, co-CEO Anke Schäfferkordt explains, “I started my career as a woman and continue it as a woman. For me personally, this topic is irrelevant in the day-to-day business. But for Bertelsmann it was a very important signal that it is opening to more women in management, up to and on the Executive Board.”

Despite this, RTLis not planning toimplement a quota. “We look at the performance and skills of people and not their gender. At RTL Group we believe women are equally as talented as men,” says Communications Manager Andreas Meier. RTL’s strategy to get more women in higher positions is helping women climb the career ladder and reach top positions based on skills and experience, Meier adds. In practice, though, this promising policy has not established a balanced boardroom. Whereas overall 46 percent of RTL’s employees are female, women occupy only 25 percent of the management positions.

Nowadays, women may at times surpass men in terms of academic qualifications. “Yet the traditional gender hierarchy in organizations still reproduces itself: men at the top and women at the lower levels,” Sieben says. She has co-supervised a Ph.D. thesis by Philine Erfurt Sandhu that argues there is a “path dependency” that makes it hard to overcome gender imbalances, as choosing a male candidate for an executive position reinforces a certain organizational hierarchy and structure. “Even in organizations that strive for equality and that intend to leverage women to senior positions, women still experience obstacles. From the perspective of path dependence theory, only an external shock can induce change, and that would be a quota,” says Sieben.

Lünenborg agrees. She notes that for the past 20 years, young people entering journalism were predominantly women. Besides, women qualified for executive positions often earn less money than men and stay on the editor level. “The decision-making level is still dominantly male. If we want to change it, we need accurate instruments like quotas,” she says.

Change from within

While quotas can help, women also have to stand up to the challenge. Niessen-Ruenzi argues that it is necessary for women to empower themselves. “Research shows that women tend to shy away from competition. In comparison to men, women underestimate their own abilities and prefer not to compete with others. Experimental findings show that better-skilled women self-selected move away from competitive environments, while lower-skilled men still go for it.” 

Pro Quote claims that despite a commitment to the advancement of women, the number of women in management positions has hardly risen in the past couple of years. A quota is a suitable instrument to exert the pressure that is needed to change the unbalanced state of the German media’s boardrooms. Once cultural change is achieved, quotas will no longer be necessary. “‘Girls develop higher ambitions if they observe female role models—that is, women in powerful positions,” says Niessen-Ruenzi. “Observing more women in leadership positions will change the mind-set of what one can achieve as a woman.”

One thought on “Through Quotas, a German Nonprofit Campaigns for More Women Media Leaders

  1. Pingback: GirlTalkHQGerman Non-Profit Campaigns For More Female Leadership In The Media

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