education

Germany should enable a better access of highly qualified mothers to its labour market – Part I

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This ideological poster from the period of the World War II says:
This ideological poster from the period
of the World War II says:
“Women, learn the production, replace
the workers who went to the front!
The stronger is the rearward,
the stronger is the front!”

I am mother with two small children and two university degrees who is currently finishing her PhD in economics. I have been actively applying for qualified jobs for almost a year now – without any success. I am living in Germany – one of the most economically developed countries in the world. And one which you can hardly accuse of (too high) gender inequality.

Born in the Soviet Union, I have been learning as long as I can remember – first at school and then later at the university. Although there was of course no perfect gender equality, women were regarded as important contributors to creating „a better future“ and attaining the economic goals, and girls were given the same scientific education in public schools as boys. It is true that men pursued more often a career of an engineer, while women would prefer to become teachers, but the whole childcare system was and is still adopted to working women. I remember going to a kindergarten and being picked up at 6 p.m. by my Dad as any other Soviet child. After the fall of the Soviet Union, we in Belarus were lucky to have kept the excellent primary and secondary education, as well as higher education that attracted both girls as boys.

Thanks to my well educated parents (my mother holds a university degree in informatics and worked as a programmer for many years while my father obtained his degree in computer engineering) who always encouraged my education, I continued to study eagerly at one of the best technical universities of the country and of course never could even imagine that I was doing it all for nothing. No, I was sure that I was as good as boys (actually I was one of the best in my class at secondary school and university) and that I would still be able to have a family and children while at the same time pursuing a meaningful career. During my third year at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics I came to Wuppertal, Germany for an exchange semester and was immediately fascinated by the level of democracy that reigned here (contrary to Belarus, there were no ideological slogans in the streets), by the multicultural society and by unlimited opportunities. After finishing my studies in Minsk and graduating in Economics with honours (with a strong technical background), I was awarded a scholarship to continue my Master studies in Germany. So this is how I came back to Wuppertal in 2006 and graduated in Economics (with a focus on ICT and international economics) two years later. Then I decided to continue with a PhD devoted to the analysis of the international mobile communications market while at the same time working as a research assistant at one of the Fraunhofer Institutes, where we developed internationalisation strategies for SMEs from our region based on detailed market analysis. I was mainly responsible for Russian speaking markets with occasional projects in English and French (yes, I speak Russian, German, English and French fluently).

So far so good… I was happy with my position, although the working contract was a temporary one like it is mostly the case in research in Germany. I was also happily married and as I was approaching my 27th birthday, I started to think more and more about the biological clock and found all the babies around sooo very cute. Just to put it into perspective, an average young Belarusian woman without a university degree would already have had 2 children by that time, an educated woman with a university degree one child, a French one would also come to the same idea of having a child by approximately this age, but an educated young German woman would not think about children before she is between 30 and 35. At first I could not understand why, but now unfortunately I do…
When in 2010 my daughter was born I did not want to stop working for more than four months because I already realised how much more difficult it would be to find a new job with a child. I was very lucky with my colleagues who organised flexible working hours for me: I could work from home part of the hours while taking care of my baby daughter and went to the office once a week while my supportive husband took care of our baby on that day. This allowed me to give the best care to my baby daughter in her first (the most sensitive) year. The best care means for me of course also only breastmilk and no formula. I have read enough articles about all the toxic stuff that laboratory tests find in the industrial formula and about negative long-lasting impacts it could have on the future health of the child and adult. As a good mother, I felt it was my primary responsibility to give my child a healthy start into life, even if it meant we had to tolerate a (temporary) worsening of our financial situation. After a year our daughter went to a nanny while I could work more from the office and continue my PhD research. But with the birth of our son in 2012 (I was 29 then) everything has changed…