Surprise, surprise

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Germany has voted. And – surprise, surprise – the voters have confirmed the first female Chancellor ever of their Republic for the second time.

Surprising then that there was next to no mention of gender equality among the major topics of the election campaign.

Not so surprising when one recalls that only last April the government of this female chancellor voted down an opposition motion to bring in a legal quota for women in top positions of the German corporate world (a motion which by the way was based on the positive experiences in Scandinavian countries, in other words on European benchmarking).

Very surprising, on the other hand, when one recalls the fact that Angela Merkel herself owes her entire political career to being a ‘triple quota’ woman herself: she was picked as junior member of the last Kohl government for no other reason than being a) young, b) a woman, c) from the East.

In the meantime, while everybody in the Merkel cabinet has just shut up on the issue since last April, Katja Krauss, 42, former goalkeeper of the German national team and only female board member of a Bundesliga club between 2003 and 2011, hasn’t. Thanks to the publicity around her recently published book ‘Power’ – a series of portraits of former leaders in politics and business who had to cope with decline and loss of power – she has been able to promote in numerous interviews the idea of a women’s quota in the ‘testosterone business’ of top football, as she calls it. If there is evidence from the corporate world that mixed leadership teams are more efficient than male-only groups, why should this not be applied to professional football? The football business has the tendency to always reproduce the same ‘old-boys’ network’ in a rather incestuous manner. On the other hand, it is in urgent need of new ideas and better management practices. So…?

Katja Krauss and Karen Espelund. Two surprises.

The ideas promoted by Katja Krauss were well illustrated by Karen Espelund at the recent ‘Football 150 Conference’ in Manchester. Mrs Espelund, the first and only woman ever to have been a member of the UEFA Executive Committee, explained that without having been imposed as ‘quota’ woman, she would never have had a chance to be elected vice-president of this same Committee.

Just like Mrs Merkel. Had she not been a ‘triple quota token woman’, she would never have had a chance to become one of Germany’s most successful political leaders ever. But instead of drawing the conclusions from her own career, she blocks the quota issue in her own government.

It seems like the change will not come from above, but can only come from below. With its huge media presence and public appeal, football would have a chance to set signals, precedents, new standards. Empowering women on football’s decision-making levels – on management boards, in coaching zones, in referee jerseys – would be a wonderful opportunity to provide evidence for the oft-quoted, but often vague ‘social relevance’ and ‘public utility’ of the game. Instead, for the time being, each woman on top-level comes as a … surprise.

Albrecht Sonntag, Centre for European Integration, ESSCA School of Management.

This post was simultaneously published on the blog of the FREE project.