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Business Culture: Women in Business

Germany has made great strides in gender equality over the last few decades and consistently ranks highly in indices of the topic. Although there are still hierarchical elements in the culture, the country has many egalitarian leanings. Women are well integrated in public and private life and hold positions at almost all levels of society. Germany falls a little short of complete equality in the political world, but the rise of Chancellor Angela Merkel to power has set a new standard in governmental involvement for women. Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, and are even more favored by the system when it comes to maternal benefits. The lack of significant benefits for fathers, however, has resulted in few men willing to make the economic sacrifice to stay at home with their newborns, sometimes forcing women to remain out of the workforce longer. In general, though, you will find that you are treated with the same respect that men are.

Public Presence

There is virtually no gender segregation in German society other than in areas such as mosques or professional sports teams. Women move freely as equals with men and share the same space as their male counterparts in office environments, on the street, in public transportation, in entertainment venues, and in public and private places.

In the office, German women tend to wear suits or dresses that are usually in dark or subdued colors, so bring something similar, paired with classy, well-polished shoes and understated jewelry. When shopping or at home, German women usually dress casually but neatly in an attractive blouse with slacks, maintaining a comfortable yet neat appearance. For a special occasion that is not too formal, women may opt for a dark blazer with a blouse or a sweater, pants or dark skirt, and a nice pair of shoes. The tailored look is the impression German women strive for. Bright colors, sportswear, and white sneakers are considered gauche and associated with tourists. Of course, you may not be comfortable embracing every form of dress or undress of your German counterparts. On the beach, for example, many women sunbathe topless. In addition, Germany has several nude beaches.

While in Germany, you will have complete freedom of movement within almost any setting. You can roam the city or countryside with a male or female companion, or even alone, if you wish, without attracting particular attention.

Personal Interaction

Germans tend to be very formal, at least initially, in their personal interactions with others. Both men and women value their personal space, and standing less than an arm’s length apart is considered uncomfortable. Men and women greet each other with a firm handshake and direct eye contact. Close friends and family members sometimes offer each other light hugs, as well. In all interactions, you will be expected to speak to men directly, expressing your thoughts and opinions with the same aplomb. Use the same tone of voice and manner that you would use with your colleagues.

In Germany, women are considered people who are entitled to their own ideas, opinions, feelings, and emotions. However, while your opinions and ideas will be given a fair hearing and all the merit they deserve, Germans as a rule are very reluctant to show their emotions in public and will expect you to keep yours hidden, as well. Despite the respect women enjoy in society as equal partners with men, vestiges of gender-based expectations still exist. For example, women are still seen as the primary caregivers for children, as well as being responsible for general household maintenance such as cooking and cleaning. Men are generally seen as providers, despite the fact that many women work outside of the home. 

Autonomy and Leadership

A woman’s rights in Germany are fully protected by the law. Women can travel anywhere they wish, both within the country and beyond its borders. They are free to own property or to establish and run their own businesses. They make their own plans and decisions, take action when necessary, and negotiate deals. As a leader in business or government, women legislate, delegate, and supervise. Despite the legal right to do all of these things, German women still face some challenges. They are more likely to be paid far less than men for the same type of work and to find themselves working primarily in fields such as education, nursing, retail, secretarial, and service. You should experience little to no gender-related discrimination while doing business in Germany.