Berlin, Germany

by Dr. Carolin Gabor

International women's day - Things can only change, if we do it together.


Dear Women in finance,


today, March 8th 2020, we celebrate International women's day. 


I have the feeling that every year the discussions around this event are getting louder, the question being “Do we really still need a women's day in 2020?”


So, I would like to raise the question: Do we need this day? 


Most of the time, when this day rolls around, I stumble upon people from certain political parties, who offer me flowers at train stations, I get swamped by “women only” invitations for breakfast, lunches, dinners and cocktails, not to mention the “special women's day discounts” for products such as makeup, cleaning accessories and lingerie. A pretty sad plethora of numerous female clichées. 


What should this day really be about? 


To raise awareness about the fact that even in 2020, we still haven’t reached the goal of a gender diverse society - which is also reflected within the economy -

… well at least not yet...


Let’s have a look at the figures: 


Of the 100 largest banks in Germany, women only represented 9,8 % in the management boards in 2019. In the insurance sector, it was slightly more with 11 % female management members, according to the Managerinnen-Barometer of DIW Berlin.  The number of female CEOs:  five at banks, two at insurance companies. 


One of the reasons, according to the study, was the male-dominated management culture, especially in the financial sector. Empirical studies for the USA and Germany have repeatedly shown that in the financial sector - even more so than in other economic sectors - people who accept extremely long and inflexible working hours are disproportionately rewarded.


Also in the fintech scene, despite advertising flat hierarchies and remote working, female fintech CEOs and Founders are still the minority. Needless to say, female founders are still struggling to get investors on board, even though their businesses perform better. A BCG study of over 350 startups found that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue (more than 2 times as much per dollar invested) than those founded by men. 


In general, women make up only nine percent of the management boards in Germany and 32 percent of the supervisory boards of the 160 listed companies in the country. Only three of these companies are currently managed by a woman. 


Now, there is one more. With Jennifer Morgan at the top of SAP, the top 30 German DAX Companies welcomed their first female CEO only last year - still, with a male Co-CEO and as the only woman in that league among 30 (!) other male CEOs. 


In my personal opinion, this status quo could only change fast and effectively with new regulations in place. 


If VCs and Private Equity funds in Europe needed to have at least one female partner on the board, I am sure that the number of investments in female lead businesses would rise significantly.


If the analysts of investment banks and rating agencies would downrate companies without female board members, I am sure that the sentence “We really tried, but there are no women on that level” would become a thing of the past. 


Unfortunately I often stumble upon many examples, within my own personal, social and business environment, which makes it hard to believe that we are not still living in the 50’s .


When I conduct job interviews for a leadership role with male and female applicants, there is often the same pattern: the men - even when not suitably qualified for the position - strongly believe that they will learn everything “on the job”, while the women, even with an impressive track record, questions if they are really the right fit and as a result often decline the offer. 


For me, this really highlights that we in fact need more visible female role models out there - whether it be in interviews, in podcasts, at events and conferences. It doesn’t help that the “leading fair in insurance in Germany”, presented last year a full two-day-programm of speakers - who were all male.  The only woman who was on stage had been given the last slot, on the last day of the conference.


On the other hand, I see the rise of women-only events: from female conferences, female Hackathons to requests for women-only-panels. I like the idea, that there are so many smart people behind all of those initiatives, that the aim is to debate and change the status quo, which has been carried over for so long. And I certainly don’t want to deny the fact that those events also have an impact. 


That being said, in my opinion, the goal should not be to have just women centric conferences and the usual “important” Symposia, like Banking Summit, Noah Conferences, Altfi in co-existence.  The goal needs to be that women are equally represented at all events and not just female events. By doing this, we allow for our messages to be heard by all parts of society, becoming role models for future generations.


So, to answer the question above: I strongly believe that we indeed need a women's day, as an annual reminder that things are not there yet in terms of equality and representation.

But things can only change, if we do it together, with the whole society - from early childhood to the board rooms. For this, we need to work together - every day.