In Angela Merkel, German Women Find Symbol, but Not Savior

Even in politics, where the chancellor has proved a role model for many and has vowed to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet if re-elected, the number of women in Parliament is already certain to drop, whatever the outcome of the vote a week from Sunday.

It is a strange contradiction. Ms. Merkel embodies what feminists the world over have hoped to accomplish, but the rest of Germany has largely not caught up.

A generation of young Germans has grown up with a woman in the highest office. Children ask their parents if boys can become chancellor. Male rivals struggle to position themselves against Ms. Merkel, whose unexcitable and deliberative style has made the fist-banging swagger of her predecessors a parody of the past.

Alice Schwarzer, the country’s best-known feminist, put it this way: “Since 2005, little girls can decide: Do I become a hairdresser — or chancellor?”

But ask Ms. Auf der Masch and the 14 other apprentices in her class how many of the local companies that train them — midsize businesses that make everything from margarine to mobility scooters — are run by women. Not a single hand goes up.

There are a few female department heads, most of them childless. But collectively the apprentices can think of more managers called “Thomas” than managers who are women.

There are, in fact, more C.E.O.s named “Thomas” (seven) than C.E.O.s who are women (three) in Germany’s 160 publicly traded companies, notes the AllBright foundation, which tracks women in corporate leadership. Ninety-three percent of all executive board members in these companies are men. Nearly three out of four of the corporations have no women on their executive teams.

Obliged by law to publish a target for hiring women at the executive level, most happily wrote down “0 percent.”


Ninety-three percent of all executive board members in Germany’s 160 publicly traded companies are men. At a vocational school in Osnabrück, some of the apprentices yearned for change.

Gordon Welters for The New York Times

“Because of Merkel, the image of Germany abroad is more progressive than it really is,” said Anne Wizorek, a feminist writer who rose to prominence in 2013 when she led a highly visible hashtag campaign against casual sexism.

Some things, from child care to corporate governance, have, in fact, changed for women…

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