More men named 'Hans' than women in top German government roles

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
More men named 'Hans' than women in top German government roles
Photo: Depositphotos/pedro2009

There have been more civil servant state secretaries called ‘Hans’ in the German government than there have been women, an investigation has found.


Zeit Online published its investigation into equality in the federal government on Monday, raising questions of deep divisions and gender discrimination in Germany.

Since 1949, there have been 692 secretaries of state and only three percent have been women, the newspaper reports. In 668 cases a man was selected for this office, while a woman was nominated 24 times.

When women who have been appointed several times have been subtracted from this figure, there have only been 19 female civil servant secretaries of state in total since 1949. At the same time, 24 men whose first names were Hans became state secretaries, and 18 whose names were Karl. 

That means that in 69 years of the Federal Republic, more men named Hans than women in general have taken up this important role as administrative head of ministries.

Zeit found men dominate most ministeries even though a gender equality law put into place 17 years ago was supposed to change this. Still in March, the new coalition government said it wants to fill 50 percent of government leadership roles with women by 2025.

The investigation also found that there had been 15 secretaries of state named Klaus, 14 Walters and 13 Günthers.

The newspaper interviewed female members of staff at different levels, from women in junior positions to senior executives. Many wanted to raise concerns about the situation but were afraid to speak out publicly for fear of repercussion. 

“It’s almost a surreal moment,” Zeit reports, as it discusses a meeting with a source.

“For almost 70 years it has been written in basic law that women and men have equal rights. A woman has been Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany for 13 years.

“For a year now, women have been proving in the #MeToo debate that they can break the power structures of complacent male unions.

Angela Merkel has been chancellor since 2005 but there are still too few women in top positions in Germany. Photo: DPA

“But now a ministerial officer is sitting there, clutching her teacup and saying she's only talking under one condition: no names. She does not dare publicly unpack against her superiors, despite all her frustrations. It would only worsen her situation, she says: ‘The system doesn't forgive such things.’”

'The high profile 'Hans' case

Zeit goes on to say the case of Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of Germany’s domestic security organization, who was sacked for speaking to a newspaper without evidence to back up his claims, but then promoted to state secretary, is an example of gender favouritism.

An outcry stopped the promotion of the former President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and he was instead given a 'special advisor' role in the Ministry of Interior, which is headed by Horst Seehofer.

“Any top civil servant who triggers a government crisis through misconduct can still become a special representative in the Interior Ministry," Zeit reports. “For women, on the other hand, many prominent positions remain unattainable.”

An evaluation of the management levels of the Finance Ministry shows that even though more women have made it to the top since 1999, most bosses are still men.

Central management areas are predominantly reserved for men, not only in the Interior Ministry, but also in finance, transport or agriculture, and in important authorities such as the Bundesbank or the Federal Police, the report found.

The disparity becomes even starker when you look at the entire staff of the ministries. Almost everywhere, more than half of the workforce is female but hardly any women are rising up and pushing through the glass ceiling.

Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, no woman has ever made it to numerous top offices. To date, authorities such as the Federal Intelligence Service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution or the Federal Criminal Police Office have only been headed by men.

'Thomas cycle' in German firms

The newspaper points out that politicians have accused companies in Germany of the practice evident in government structures.

There is a "Thomas cycle" in German executive boards, criticized Family Minister Franziska Giffey recently: "Thomas promotes Thomas and Michael promotes Michael." 

Studies show that superiors protect those who are similar to them: white, male, similar education, similar background - and even of the same name. In listed German companies, there are 2018 more board members named Thomas or Michael than women.

Politicians like Seehofer continue this Hans principle, Zeit argues.

Among the five permanent state secretaries in his Ministry is a Hans-Georg, but not a single woman. The remaining three positions at the highest management level, that of the parliamentary state secretaries, were also occupied by men.

When the ministry published a photo of Seehofer on its website in March showing the eight grey suit-men, it triggered outraged comments across social media. The press office quickly took the picture down.

The photo that prompted a social media storm in March. Photo: DPA

“So the Hans principle simply rewards being a man," writes Zeit. “Hans supports Hans, but Hans does not support Ulrike.”

No real change despite law

All this is despite a law aimed at ending male dominance in governmental authorities, which came into place in 2001. The Federal Equality Act was enacted to "realize equality between women and men".

Torsten von Roetteken, an administrative lawyer who has specialized in the Federal Equality Act, said: "Overall, the Federal Government's equality policy is close to fraud. The population is led to believe that they are doing everything they can to ensure equality for women, but that is not true.”

Recently, 180 senior civil servants signed a protest letter to Peter Altmaier, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, criticising "the fact that the proportion of women in responsible and prominent positions has not yet increased".

They demanded that Altmaier change this situation. He replied that the professional equality of women and men had been a matter of concern to him for a long time - and left his staff make-up unchanged.

Chancellor Merkel also received an angry letter. The Inter-ministerial Working Group of Equal Opportunities Commissioners complained that in some ministries only men had been appointed state secretaries.

Merkel should work towards setting a "clear signal" in the ministries, the letter said. Merkel's state secretary Helge Braun replied and said the problem was being addressed but no concrete plans were disclosed.


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