Master’s thesis by Louisa Madu of Steinbeis University points to the benefits of female empowerment
In a society that believes in equal opportunity, everyone should be open about the paths they would like to tread. Women should be in a position to decide for themselves if they want to go back to work after having a baby or not. Similarly, men should be allowed to decide – without judgment – if they want to take on the task of running a family. In a society that has moved beyond conventions imposed on us through expectations, men should not hesitate to become kindergarten teachers if they want to; women should not hesitate to become engineers. These are all things that Louisa Madu advocates. She is conducting a project for her master’s degree at Steinbeis University. Her topic of interest: female empowerment. Madu has been examining how women can be supported with their management aspirations as they work their way up to the top.
An increasing number of women aspire to study subjects or pursue professions in areas that until relatively recently were considered “typical male” – and vice versa. In Germany, nearly 30 percent of students in the so-called MINT topics – math, IT, (natural) science, and technology (engineering) – are now female. This development can be considered a first step in the right direction. There are numerous examples in politics and business of women successfully spearheading organizations – women who have achieved what they aspired to. Nonetheless, family life often has to be put on the back burner for women with high career ambitions. This is because there are no other options within the social framework in Germany. An example: According to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, there is a shortage of 2,500 kindergarten places in Berlin alone.
SOCIETY NEEDS TO CHANGE – WORKING MODELS NEED TO CHANGE
“Even today, there’s still general acceptance that a woman can consider herself lucky if she can focus exclusively on child care and household duties after the birth of a child. And then a working mother is looked at skeptically if she’s putting her own interests before those of the child,” criticizes Madu, a mother of a young girl herself. Madu is concerned by the fact that it seems to go without saying that women count as a human resource in business, but there appears to be a general lack of understanding regarding the need to change family models. For society to become more child- and family-friendly, a shift is needed such that fathers are put in a position to reduce professional commitments – without worrying. Men who would like to be more closely involved in running a family should not be discriminated against in their careers. Instead, they should actually be supported in their efforts. Madu believes that one way to improve the current situation would be to offer flexible working hours and reduce workloads – without this affecting people’s career chances. There is also a need to offer a flexible model which values family and careers equally. “On top of that, women also need to work on themselves. There’s nothing stopping them feeling a bit more confident about themselves, learning to be more assertive at work, or making their own needs clear. They should do more to support each other, because if women aren’t in an ideal position to understand the situation facing others, who is?” asks Madu, also challenging her female counterparts. To boost each other’s confidence, women should share their experiences with others. Women should give each other tips and set up networks, and mentors are needed to provide recommendations. Ultimately, this is about being more courageous and believing in oneself. And this is exactly the angle Madu comes from in her degree project.
As a student on the General Management degree program, which is run by the Graduate School (itself part of the Leadership & Management faculty at Steinbeis University), Madu is receiving scientific support on her project from experts at the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE). Her master’s thesis is on the topic of Female Empowerment. This involves looking at different treatment of women and men when it comes to work and family commitments. From Madu’s point of view, there are a number of ways that improvements could be made on a political level.
PLATFORM FOR SHARING EXPERIENCES
The master’s student would like to set up a forum, primarily targeted at women with management ambitions who would like to exchange views on a variety of topics. She is examining the skills, (ongoing) training, networks, and other factors that are important to women aiming for or already fulfilling a role in management. Her analysis also looks closely at the strategies that women can pursue in achieving their career goals. This primarily involves assessing intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors, as well as requirements when it comes to succeeding in a management position. Madu is also identifying and analyzing the communication patterns of women. For example, which online communication platforms do they use – especially women striving for a position in management.
Her results until now have shown that women are not only impeded by external setups in achieving their goals, there are also a number of social influences dating back to early childhood and these have a decisive impact on their current attitude toward careers. Madu has a number of insights and suggested improvements when it comes to the actions that politicians, companies, men, and women could take to improve the situation. These include investing more in education for families and schools on the possible consequences of stereotyping social roles, promoting young female talents in industries dominated by men, and raising salaries and investments in the social sector. She also finds it important to provide an infrastructure of improved children’s care facilities and offer flexible working hours. More must be done to raise awareness of such flexible working models and the role they play in shaping women’s careers. These models make it possible for people to develop their own skills, advance in a career, bring everything under one roof with a family, and thus share responsibility for a family. This can be of particular interest for women with high career aspirations who still do not want to miss out on starting a family.
QUALIFICATIONS RATHER THAN QUOTAS
Women are just as qualified to pursue a career in senior management as their male colleagues, and wanting to start a family should not be tantamount to closing a door, demands Madu, vehemently. “Unfortunately, making the senior management of German companies more female hasn’t worked in the past without political pressure. The proportion of women on the supervisory boards of German listed companies after the introduction of the gender quota rose from 27.4 percent in 2016 to 30.1 percent in 2017. It’s questionable as to whether you can call that a success, because this rise wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been the threat of sanctions – so it’s not a rise because more women are qualified, it’s more of a forced increase in order to meet a quota,” she says, clearly on a critical note. There is nonetheless one highly positive development: Some companies exceed statutory requirements by a long shot. This indicates that they have recognized the potential of female managers and promoted women based on their capabilities. And there’s one thing Louisa is absolutely convinced about: More women in senior management will lead to more opportunities for other women to follow suit.