What does the #MeToo campaign reveal about work culture in Germany?

The global #MeToo campaign hasn’t quite taken off the same way in this country as it has in others, such as the US and Sweden. The Local looks at what this says about German culture - particularly in the workplace.

What does the #MeToo campaign reveal about work culture in Germany?
Photo: DPA.

About two months ago, The Local took to the streets of Berlin to speak to women about their experiences of sexual harassment in Germany.

At the time, the #MeToo initiative had just launched and people the world over were showing their solidarity and sharing their personal stories of sexual harassment under the hashtag.

While a few of the women we spoke to said they had been harassed sexually before, a young woman named Marge said she “luckily” had not, adding that “in Germany it’s not so openly discussed.”  

Following rape and sexual harassment allegations from dozens of female actresses against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, in America the misconduct of several other prominent people has since made global headlines.

In France and in Sweden the movement has gone well beyond a hashtag, with thousands of women demonstrating on the streets of Paris and high profile figures in Swedish politics and media facing repercussions in their careers due to harassment accusations.

Germany on the other hand has yet to see the same scale of reports of sexual wrongdoing. This doesn’t necessarily mean though that sexual harassment isn’t an issue in the country.

Harassment by male superiors

Only 400 workplace incidents of sexual harassment have been reported at Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Office (ADS) since it was founded eleven years ago, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). This is in spite of the fact that people can approach the institution anonymously.

But a YouGov survey conducted in October found that 43 percent of female respondents and 12 percent of male respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment before. Over half (60 percent) of the assaults came from colleagues, the respondents stated. Meanwhile, it was much more common to be harassed by superiors (46 percent) than by subordinates (9 percent).

Photo: Deposit Photos/tomwang.

The survey results “are not surprising at all” for psychologist and professor Sonja Sackmann at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, who believes the real numbers could be even higher.

“Sexual harassment usually happens when there is a power difference. Frequently it’s males who are in the manager position, and it’s the dependent female who is actually harassed,” Sackmann told The Local.

If it were the other way around, for instance if there were more female managers than male managers, or if the genders were balanced, this would “definitely” change the debate, she adds.

In Germany, only 29 percent of women are in high-ranking professional positions such as company managers, according to a World Economic Forum ranking in 2016. And women made up just 6.7 percent of executive board members at 160 market-listed companies surveyed in an report by consultancy firm EY earlier this year.

The silence breakers (or lack thereof)

Well-known actress Nina Brandhoff was one of the first people in Germany after #MeToo kicked off to speak publicly about the problem of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.

The 42-year-old told Spiegel Online that on one occasion a director who had promised her a role said to her: “I would like to get your breasts out of your shirt and play around with them.”

“The perpetrators have such power because they profit from the silence of the victims and their shame,” she said.

Since the actress came forward, so, too have other German actors. The majority of them don’t dare disclose their names though. And few – if any – public figures in various other industries have spoken up in solidarity with Brandhoff. 

But it is difficult to compare Germany with other countries in terms of the #MeToo campaign’s global success, says Sackmann.

A woman at a #MeToo demonstration in New York City in early December. Photo: DPA.

“Sweden and America have a democratic culture; in these countries discussions about equal opportunities and more women entering the workplace started much earlier,” she argues. 

What is considered sexual harassment also differs from country to country and culture to culture, the psychologist adds.

A recent YouGov poll carried out in wake of the Weinstein scandal shows that Germans are less likely than their European neighbours to consider risque actions like staring at a woman’s cleavage to be sexual harassment.

'Executives need to be role models'

Fear of repercussions appear to play a role in the fact that so few German women speak about the problem.

According to Sackmann, women “don't like speaking about it because it can have implications for them personally in their private lives.”

“If they keep it to themselves, things go on as usual,” she says.

Head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Office, Christine Lüders, partially agrees.

“Many people don't dare talk about harassment because they fear the consequences or think there is no point in talking about it,” Lüders told DPA.

This means that companies should be working even harder to address the issue and take advantage of the #MeToo campaign to raise much-needed discussions, according to Sackmann.

“Executives need to be role models. The way male executives behave, their attitude and their language show others what is appropriate or inappropriate,” she said.

On whether the campaign still has the potential to take off in Germany, the psychologist is hopeful but has her doubts.

“We still have a long way to go,” she says.

With DPA

READ ALSO: #MeToo debate could 'totally sterilize' German workplace, ex-families minister warns

For members


How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Lots of foreigners in Germany hope to get a job or climb the career ladder. But are there still opportunities for English speakers who don't have fluent German? We spoke to a careers expert to find out.

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The pandemic turned our lives upside down. As well as having to isolate and be apart from family members, many people found themselves in need of a new job or decided they want a change in career. 

If you’re in Germany or thinking of moving here, job searching is of course easier with German language skills. But many people haven’t had the chance to learn German – or their German isn’t fluent enough to work in a German-only environment.

So how easy is it to find a job in Germany as an English speaker?

We asked Düsseldorf-based career coach Chris Pyak, managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH, who said he’s seen an increase in job offers. 

“The surprising thing about this pandemic is that demand for skilled labour actually got even stronger,” Pyak told The Local.

“Instead of companies being careful, they’ve hired even more than they did before. And the one thing that happened during the pandemic that didn’t happen in the last 10 years I’ve observed the job market was that the number of English offers quadrupled.”

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Pyak said usually about one percent of German companies hire new starts in English. “Now it’s about four percent,” said Pyak. 

“This happened in the second half of 2021. This is a really positive development that companies are more willing than they used to be. That said it’s still only four percent.”

Pyak said he’s seen a spike in demand for data scientists and analysts as well as project managers. 

So there are some jobs available, but can foreigners do anything else?

Pyak advises non-Germans to sell themselves in a different way than they may be used to. 

A woman works on her CV in Germany.

A woman works on her CV in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“In your home country you have a network, you have a company you used to work for that people know,” said Pyak. “This might be partly the case in Germany if you worked for an international company. But for most employers you are a blank sheet of paper, they know nothing about you. So unfortunately if they don’t know you or your country, they will assume you are worse (at the job) than Germans. It’s completely unjustified but it’s just how people are. 

“Get the employer to see you as the individual person you are, the professional you are. This requires that you have a conversation with somebody inside the company, ideally the decision maker, meaning the hiring manager or someone in this team.”

Pyak said it’s important to go into details. 

“Don’t think of me as a foreigner, think of me as ‘Mark who has been working in IT for 15 years’,” said Pyak. “Don’t read the job advert (to the manager), ask them what his or her biggest worry is and why is that important? And then dig deeper and offer solutions based on your work experience. Share actual examples where you proved that you can solve this problem.”

READ ALSO: 7 factors that can affect how much you’re getting paid

Pyak says foreigners in Germany can convince managers that they are right for the job – even if their German isn’t great. 

“What I advise clients at the beginning of the interview is to ask very politely if you can ask them (managers) a question. And this question should be: how will you know that I’m successful in this job, what is the most important problem I need to solve for you in order to make myself valuable? And then ask why this problem is so important. And the answer to that achieves a million things for you – first of all you’ve established a measurement by which you should be measured. 

“Then when you get into detailed discussion you can always tie your answer back to the question you can solve, which usually makes up 70 or 80 percent of the job. If you can solve this problem then what does it matter if you do the job in German or English?”

So in answer to our original question – it seems that getting an English-speaking job in Germany can’t be described as easy but it is very possible especially if you have the skills in your chosen field. Plus there are ways to increase your chances. Good luck!