Monthly Archives: September 2014

Women to the grill

Men construct, women maintain: These old stereotypes my not be valid anymore. But as more and more women take jobs that were once considered traditionally male domains, the number of men in the so-called women’s jobs stagnates.

Last weekend I found a wonderful employment ad by BMW in a leading German newspaper. The headline said: “Women to the grill”. In the “man’s world” of BMW, the ad played provocative and self-deprecating with the old gender stereotype that women belong to the kitchen. In an old German saying: Women to the stove. Why grill? In the photo, a young woman, perhaps an engineer or designer, looked thoughtful at the typical kidney-shaped vehicle grill of a BMW. In the copy text, I read that good ideas arise completely independently from age, cultural roots and––most of all––gender. “For an innovation it does not matter whether it was created by women or men,” said the subline. In addition, the carmaker praises its “innovative culture” and “individual talent facilitation”. BMW promises “mobile work solutions with flexible working hours” for optimal work-life balance, high satisfaction and best motivation.

The ad reflects a trend. Women are not only taking classic men’s domains. They are apparently being courted. And the reason why they now build cars is probably not only that male professionals are missing. Perhaps the manufacturer knows very well that mixed-gender teams usually develop better solutions. A woman as a building contractor? Also no longer a novelty. In an interview on Franchiseportal.de (http://www.franchiseportal.de/franchise-franchising/Article/ID/615/Session/1-ai7bwP5t-0-IP/guidObject/019973-20140702-120119-01/Beruflich_angekommen_Verena_Hirte,_Franchise-Partnerin_im_Hausverkauf_bei_Town_Country_Haus.htm) Verena Hirte reveals how in the middle of her parents’ time she had become a successful franchisee of the contracting business Town & Country Haus. In a military training area, Mrs. Lieutenant gives salutations to Mrs. Chancellor Merkel. The job revolution occurs slowly, perhaps too slowly. But at least it takes place.

But what about the reverse with men in traditional female occupations? Here, little has changed in the last 25 years in Germany. Very little. According to the magazine Spiegel Online, in 2009 almost 50 percent of all employed men and nearly 40 percent of all women have been in professions where more than 80 percent of all colleagues were the same sex. And among primary school teachers, nurses, health care workers, teachers, hairdressers and florists, the male rate is well below 20 percent.

Why? Just because these professions are so frustratingly underpaid? Perhaps. High incomes and the role of provider and breadwinner of the family are important parts of male prestige. Male cosmetologists who paint the nails of female customers do not yet fit into the image that we have. Neither the male medical assistant working for a female doctor. But in many professions men would be a perfect teammates for women. For example, as kindergarten or primary school teachers or day nannies. This would be perfect as the male element and role-play completes a child’s education. But in fact men in traditional women’s jobs report that they often feel discriminated by their female colleagues and by society. Male kindergarten workers say that they frequently get asked by people in the streets if all these kids were their own. On the other hand, I have also heard more than once that men have a problem with recognizing the leadership role of female superior, especially when she is younger. It looks like both men and women need to rethink …

So when will I read in an ad the words: Men to the manger? When will nurses––in German “sisters”––get brothers? Maybe never … unless the self-perception of our gender roles will change fundamentally as well as the image and the payment of these professions.

 

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On the balcony, in a café or at the lake

Modern IT frees employees from the necessity to stay at their workplace––technically. Work is possible everywhere with a notebook, mobile internet, Wi-Fi hotspots and the data on a cloud. Communication with colleagues also works via cellphone, intranet, social tools or e-mail. In addition, the free choice creates workplace diversity, promoting motivation, performance and creativity. Therefore, it is time that the companies free their employees from compulsive workplaces, too. The motto of the time means, literally, create space.

At Microsoft, they have recognized the potential. “Presence says nothing about the quality of employees’ performance”. With these words, the online magazine LEAD digital quoted Elke Frank, HR Director and member of the Microsoft Germany management board early last week. The magazine article describes a new, pioneering company agreement which the software company had recently introduced. Legally secured by this agreement, Microsoft employees can choose their workplace freely and design their working environment individually.

Gone are the days of the nine-to-five jobs under the same old office lamp. Flexibility is required concerning workspace selection. Especially if it appears beneficial to the performance potential of the employees. But even more, of course, when it comes to winning the picky heads of Generation Y. For Jessica, Ashley, Matthew and Josh, a certain freedom, mobility and a “chilly” atmosphere are important parts of their lifestyle. Well over 80 percent of all workers today prefer companies with flexible work models, as the Centre of Human Resources Information Systems has revealed in a study. And just as in many companies there is already a “confidence-working time” instead of a time clock, modern employers such as Microsoft offer “confidence-workplaces”. At the software trust, already around 90% of all employees use the opportunities to work flexibly, so the LEAD Digital article continues to read.

It is interesting in this context to look at a study of the office service provider Regus to which the magazine article also refers. Regus found out that in about three-quarters of all German companies the management is convinced that employee’s productivity will increase by flexible working possibilities. The Kiel based IfW, Institute for World Economy, supports this thesis with concrete numbers of rising output. Companies that give their employees individual freedom would develop up to 14 percent more improved or new products.

Free spaces and individuality are pleasant and conducive. But not only that: they are essential for a work-life balance which, for example, single mothers / fathers or families with two working parents utterly need. The only drawback: the personal contact with employees and managers can not entirely be replaced even by the latest communication ways and devices like external network access or Skype video conferences. Personal presence is still compulsory to the team meetings or to talks with the boss still. At the very least, clear structures and arrangements must be made when and where everybody has to appear.

But even that has been recognized at Microsoft. In coachings, managers learn how they manage and delegate their teams efficiently even if not all are personally available on site. Employees learn how to best communicate externally with colleagues and how they achieve that their performance is equally noticed and appreciated … just as if they were sitting right in the office.

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