Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at FidAR Forum XII “Women in Leadership. A good choice. In Germany and internationally.” – An event in the run-up to International Women’s Day

10.02.2021 - Speech

It may sound strange to some, but it took a whole 150 years for us to name a room at the Federal Foreign Office after a woman. We name conference rooms here after people. And just a few months ago, for the first time, we named a room after a woman – Ellinor von Puttkamer, the Federal Republic of Germany’s first female ambassador. Back then, in 1969, it was nothing less than a sensation when Willy Brandt appointed her as Head of the Permanent Representation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The headline in “Bild-Zeitung” expressed astonishment: “Woman becomes German Ambassador!”

Yes, the headline also reflects the closed doors women encountered on their way to senior management positions. And the resistance that women like Professor Ellinor von Puttkamer had to overcome. That women have still to overcome today.

You see, gender equality between women and men cannot be taken for granted. The closed doors of Ellinor von Puttkamer’s day may have become “glass ceilings”. But the effect is pretty much the same. And that despite the fact that we have been talking about equality for decades now.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Talking about it simply isn’t enough. Especially as all the arguments have, I believe, long since been voiced.

So I can more or less imagine what comments my colleagues Christine Lambrecht and Franziska Giffey got to hear a few weeks ago, when they pushed through the quota for women on companies’ management boards.

Back in 2015, when I was still Justice Minister, and Manuela Schwesig and I together introduced a quota for women on supervisory boards, we were already accused of ushering in the fall of the western world. At least, that was the tenor of the commentary. As we can see, those prophecies of doom have not been realised. And I think what the doom-sayers actually fear is quite a different collapse: namely that of a male-dominated leadership system, established over centuries, that has simply refused to adapt itself to reality.

The women’s quota is a start; yes, it’s a start. But a start is all it is, if we want to change everything that yet has to be changed in this regard in our society and in the present. Since the quota was introduced, the proportion of women on supervisory boards has risen to more than a third. But of course that is not the end, because the end can only be “parity”.

Ultimately, diverse teams are far more innovative and successful. We can see that everywhere. And I am not the only one who says so. That was also the conclusion of a study by Boston Consulting Group, which found that, of the 100 biggest listed companies in Germany, those with diverse management teams earn almost 20 percent more revenue from innovative products and services.

And numerous international studies show that gender-equal societies are more secure, more stable and more peaceful.

This is not about ideology or “gender frenzy”. It is a matter of social and economic sense, of participation, of justice. In essence, therefore, it is a question of what kind of society we want to live in, what kind of world we want to live together in.

Diplomacy is a key lever in accelerating the necessary cultural shift. To that end, though, diplomacy itself needs to change. Power has long ceased to be concentrated merely in government circles. A campaign by Amnesty, a post from Greta Thunberg or unfortunately the odd Russian bot factory often reaches more people than diplomatic communiqués, statements or press conferences.

This brings both risks and opportunities, as we all know. If we want to alter power constellations to foster inclusive, democratic societies, then we also need civil-society diplomacy.

A form of diplomacy where equality is not mere lip service, but a central goal in the global fight between freedom and oppression, between democracy and authoritarianism.

This has two implications for our work.

Firstly, diplomacy must become more female.

And of course that begins in our own ranks. Anyone who advocates worldwide for the rights of women and girls must themselves be inclusive. Basically it’s a simple matter of credibility.

This year, more than 50 years after the appointment of our first female ambassador, it is still the case that only one in four German missions abroad is headed by a woman. There is considerable room for improvement there.

You can also see that, for example, when it comes to the directors-general and their deputies at headquarters here in Berlin. The proportion of women in these positions has risen from 27% to 43% over the last three years. That is not yet parity, but it is more than just a start.

Of course, ensuring a good work-family balance is of particular importance in this context. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, if we did not know before, just how quickly the clock can be turned back.

During the current crisis, the proportion of women on the boards of the 30 DAX-listed companies has fallen back to the 2017 level. For many women, “home office” just now means more “home” than “office”. Which is to say that many women are doing two full-time jobs at home – work plus childcare and homeschooling. And even under normal circumstances, women still bear the main burden when it comes to family and caregiving.

In the Federal Foreign Office – involving a nomadic lifestyle from Brasília to Belgrade to Berlin – this challenge is heightened even more. So over the past three years we have worked even harder to ensure greater flexibility, for instance in terms of in-office attendance.

We must as a matter of urgency continue working on creative new forms of jobsharing, also here in the Federal Foreign Office.

Secondly, our motto must be this: nothing about women without women. In the UN Security Council and at all other seats of power.

This is why we have made the UN’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda a key priority of German foreign policy.

  • As a member of the Security Council, we anchored gender equity and protection against sexual violence in the mandates of peace missions and strengthened the participation of female peacekeepers.
  • In the face of strong resistance, we pushed through a Security Council resolution designed to strengthen and better protect survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.
  • In 2017, in order to enhance the involvement and leadership of women, we initiated the African Women Leaders Network, which today numbers around 3000 members. In 2019, we launched the German-Latin American women’s network Unidas. Some 240 members and partner organisations have since joined the network.
  • And we help women in crisis zones to participate in peace negotiations. In the Sudan, for example, working via the Goethe-Institut, we offer activists safe spaces where they can exchange views and receive education and training free of societal controls. Many of these women were right on the front line during the revolution in their country in 2019. I talked with some of them during my last visit to Khartoum and was particularly impressed by their courage and stamina. And our promise still holds good: we want to make sure that these women are not excluded from the negotiating table again now that talk is of transformation and democratisation in their country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Is all this easier said than done? Yes, certainly.

Will the necessary cultural change meet with resistance? Yes, undoubtedly.

But must we allow ourselves to be put off? No, definitely not.

Otherwise our women ambassadors today might still be in the same position as Ellinor von Puttkamer, who had to fill in a box marked “Nationality of wife” in her personnel card. Because there was no provision for female ambassadors, and consequently husbands of ambassadors. Not on paper, and certainly not in people’s minds or in reality.

On paper, thank goodness, that has long since changed. And hopefully in most people’s minds as well. Now, however, ladies and gentlemen, there is above all one aim: change in reality.

Thank you very much.


Top of page