Women in the Workplace: Germany

Waving German Flag

“That’s the power of German engineering.” This phrase was used in Volkswagen advertisements to instill a sense of appreciation and respect for German innovation. As one of the world’s most established and well-developed nations, Germany—through its substantial influence in the automobile industry—has a legitimate claim to hosting a forward-thinking, aspirational population. One example of this mentality is found in Germany’s efforts to further incorporate women into its economy.

In 2006, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Germany as the fifth-best country overall in its Global Gender Gap Report, awarding Germany a score of 75.2 (with a score of 100 representing exact gender parity).1 Of the various factors that influenced the overall score, Germany’s high rank was most heavily influenced by the “political empowerment” portion. And, on the other end of the spectrum, “educational attainment” and “economic participation and opportunity” were two of the factors that most negatively influenced Germany’s rank.

In many areas, once a high rank or position is achieved, complacency can begin to manifest itself. Sometimes, the maintenance of a preferred position becomes more difficult than simply obtaining it. In some ways, Germany is experiencing this phenomenon in its integration of women into the workforce. German women’s education, traditional work industries, and wage gap are a few areas that give insight into Germany’s progress over the last decade and its status today.


As of 2017, women account for just under 50 percent of bachelor’s degrees in Germany,2 and the German federal government’s website claims that—using college degrees as the sole metric—today’s women are twice as educated as their mothers.3 This “micro-census” showed that 30 percent of 30- to 34-year-old women have college degrees, while only 15 percent of women of ages 60 to 64 hold degrees. To provide context for these numbers, the same data showed that men only experienced one-third of the growth (going from 22 percent to 27 percent.)


Traditional Industries

Compared to the member-countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), German women are slightly less likely to hold management positions.4 Some of this can be explained by the data that indicate that of all the German women who work, 37 percent work part-time. Intuitively, this can factor into women’s lack of promotions and decreased chance of substantial pay increases.

Further, the data detailing where women are executives is insightful: according to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, women make up 64.6 percent and 61.3 percent of executives in the education and human health/social work industries, respectively.5 The same press release notes that, “In these branches, the proportion of women among all persons in employment is higher, too.” So, although roughly 29 percent of all executives are women, their representation varies greatly by industry.

Germany has put some legislation into motion that aims to equilibrate these imbalances. As of 2016, “a gender quota of 30 percent has been in place for the supervisory boards of businesses that are listed and are subject to parity-based co-determination.”6

Wage GapAverage Man's Hourly Wage Divided By Average Woman's Hourly Wage

Based on survey information collected by the World Economic Forum in 2017, Germany is currently the 49th ranked country out of 144 in terms of gender wage gap.7 The responses from the survey suggested that women, on average, earned 68 percent of a male’s earnings for similar work. When exclusively considering full-time employees, though, the gap shrinks to roughly 17 percent.8 In other words, women who work part-time are typically subjected to a significantly larger wage gap compared to those women who work full-time.

Germany seems to be cognizant of these facts. In Germany’s annual report on sustainable development indicators, they said this:

[T]he measurable key reasons for the unadjusted pay gap are the different sectors and jobs in which women and men are employed and the performance group, that is, the specific workplace requirements in terms of leadership and qualification. There are additional factors such as a shorter period of service and a lower scope of employment. By the reasons mentioned, around two thirds of the difference of the hourly wages can be statistically explained. The remaining third of the difference in earnings corresponds to the adjusted pay gap. This remaining 7 [percent] of wage difference between men and women cannot be explained using the above-mentioned variables.9

To combat these statistical findings, in 2016, the “General Act on Equal Treatment” banned pay discrimination, and the federal government plans to take even more action. Legislation is currently in the works to require a company that has more than 500 employees to report on any pay differences.10 Further, Germany has taken some measures to assist in qualitative ways. The OECD says that, “Germany is among ten OECD countries that offer strong financial incentives to fathers to take parental leave for at least two months.”11 With this, women are able to more fully share familial responsibilities, remain consistently employed, and receive on-par promotions more frequently. Overall, the German government is working toward a goal of reducing the pay gap to 10 percent by 2030.12


According to the most-recent WEF Global Gender Gap Report, Germany currently boasts a score of 77.8—an increase of 2.6 points since 2006.13 Although Germany’s gross score has improved, the country is currently the 12th-best in terms of overall gender gap. Comparatively speaking, Germany has slowly been passed by other countries. In fact, an article by the WEF said, “Germany [is] … set to close [its] gender gaps in more than 60 years, longer than countries which are currently ranked lower.”14


  1. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2017.pdf
  2. https://www.oecd.org/germany/Gender2017-DEU-en.pdf
  3. https://www.deutschland.de/en/news/german-women-more-highly-educated
  4. https://www.oecd.org/germany/Gender2017-DEU-en.pdf
  5. https://www.destatis.de/EN/PressServices/Press/pr/2018/09/PE18_362_122.html
  6. https://www.oecd.org/germany/Gender2017-DEU-en.pdf
  7. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2017.pdf
  8. https://www.oecd.org/germany/Gender2017-DEU-en.pdf
  9. https://www.destatis.de/EN/Publications/Specialized/EnvironmentalEconomicAccounting/Sustainability/Indicators2016.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
  10. http://www.unwomen.org/en/get-involved/step-it-up/commitments/germany
  11. https://www.oecd.org/germany/Gender2017-DEU-en.pdf
  12. https://www.destatis.de/EN/Publications/Specialized/EnvironmentalEconomicAccounting/Sustainability/Indicators2016.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
  13. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2017.pdf
  14. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/which-country-will-be-the-first-to-close-the-gender-gap-and-how