Germany Debates Gender Quotas for Newspapers

by Gabby LaVerghetta

Germany is in the midst of a debate over gender quotas at newspapers. Last week, female journalists in Germany sent an open letter to 250 editors and publishers demanding a quota that would ensure that at least 30 percent of all executive positions are filled by women.

The letter states that now only two percent of those positions are held by women. This is all very interesting coming from Germany – one of the few countries in the world that has a female leader. But the debate centers on women in the media, not in politics.

So are quotas a good idea?  Ines Pohl, the editor-in-chief of Die Tageszeitungsays they are.  She says that although many people assume there is gender equality in places like newspapers, that’s not actually the case.

Not everyone thinks so. Heather Horn writes in The Atlantic that quotas that compel companies to promote women even when they aren’t the best choice for the job are detrimental for everyone.

I don’t support gender quotas either. But Horn overlooks the fact that many of the capable women in media could have leadership positions if they wanted to. That last part is the key. Maybe they just don’t want to be executives.

Horn also questions whether the message that we want to send to younger generations is one that women need quotas to get ahead. The contributions that women have made to journalism speak volumes for themselves. The late Marie Colvin is a model of a strong woman who pursued her dreams – which didn’t include an executive suite.

In her support of the quota, Pohl also writes, “It can be exhausting to work on female colleagues to encourage and build them up until they have enough self-belief to take the next step on the career ladder. Especially when it comes to leading positions in a newspaper, men are often quicker to put their hand up and say: ‘Yes, I will,’ and ‘Yes, I can.’”

This doesn’t sound like it reflects the interests of all women. By adopting the quota, the German media would be sending the message that success is measured by title or salary, not by meaningful journalistic accomplishments. There are some women in the media who want to be in charge, and they don’t need gender quotas to get there.

(The photo is by Patrick Wilken of London, U.K. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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