In commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day, HiBob presents the latest insights stemming from the third annual German Women Professionals in the Workplace study. This expansive nationwide online survey which took place in January 2024, engaged 1000 full-time employed individuals aged 25 and older, with men constituting 55% and women 45% of the participants. Delving into the intricacies of both hybrid and in-office work environments, the study explores important equity levers such as pay, promotions, benefits, and leadership roles. 

The study comes at a time when women are still facing significant challenges, such as an average pay gap of 18% compared to their male counterparts. This disparity, among other factors, paints a clear picture of the elusive nature of gender equality in the foreseeable future.  The 2022 study from the Institute of Economic and Social Research in Düsseldorf unveils this stark truth for women in the German workforce. 

And more recently, Germany unveiled a new chapter in its diplomatic narrative with the recent introduction of feminist foreign policy guidelines that seek to take gender equality and women’s rights to the forefront of the country’s external relations.

By looking at perceptual and real gaps, this initiative aspires to contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding gender equality and workforce dynamics within the German professional landscape.

Key Takeaways

  • Women are persistently at a clear disadvantage when it comes to salary and career progression   
  • Women see flexibility as a more significant catalyst for changing jobs following a year that saw the highest number of layoffs compared to men
  • Women still feel the pressure of presenteeism for career progression
  • A lack of salary transparency are ongoing challenges for women professionals in Germany seeking equal pay
  • Despite quotas, women still lack genuine company support for leadership development

1. Women face distinct inequities in pay and promotions, exacerbated by widespread misconceptions about their professional experiences

The professional landscape for women reveals a complex narrative shaped by perceptions versus realities experienced by women professionals. While a majority of men (71%) believe that there are equal opportunities for promotions, only 53% of women share this view.

A striking 41% of women believe that men are promoted more frequently and swiftly, contrasting sharply with the 6% of respondents who feel women experience faster promotions.

In terms of pay, 34% received raises in 2023, with a significant gender gap as 37% of men enjoyed salary increases compared to only 29% of women. A notable portion, nearly a fifth (19%) of all survey participants, reported not receiving any form of increase or promotion in the year 2023. Within this group, a higher percentage of women (22%) experienced this compared to men, where the figure stood at 17%.

A concerning 19% did not witness any form of increase or promotion in 2023.

Confidence levels present another dimension, with 82% expressing confidence in their performance. However, there is a gender divide as 84% of men exhibit confidence, while only 57% of women feel similarly assured. Fortunately, only 3% struggled with confidence, but the overall picture underscores the subtle challenges women face in salary, promotions, and confidence levels within the professional sphere.

2. Women prioritise flexibility over pay as a motivation for changing roles, and notably, they experienced the highest number of layoffs among all groups in 2023

In 2023, twice as many women experienced layoffs compared to men. Meanwhile, in 2024 many people (mostly men 66%) are consciously choosing to stay in their jobs, with 71% saying they plan to stick with their current roles though alarmingly only 13% of women form part of this group, indicating a prevailing trend for women to consider changing jobs as a means of seeking greater job security.

Overall, this broader inclination towards stability may be influenced by ongoing uncertainties related to geopolitical factors and sluggish global economies.

When exploring the motivations behind considering a job change, the majority (17%) across genders express a preference for leaving for a pay increase. Following closely are desires for more flexibility and increased job security. A noteworthy gender divergence emerges as women lean towards flexibility, with 66% indicating a willingness to leave for more flexible work arrangements, compared to 13% who would consider leaving for a pay increase. On the other hand, men do not show a clear preference between pay and flexibility, with 17% favoring a pay increase, 12% desiring more flexibility, and 8% seeking increased job security.

The prevailing sentiment toward flexibility is further underlined by the majority of respondents expressing a preference for a hybrid work model, signifying that flexibility has become a staple in work expectations. Although it is worth noting that 34% of women prefer set days in the office over at will choice.  

Additionally, the data reveals an interesting nuance regarding work hours, with more women (16%) favoring a 4-day workweek in the office with pro-rata pay compared to men (6%). While this specific model is not universally popular, it reflects the diverse preferences within the workforce.

These results point to a growing trend towards ‘the Big Stay’ of job retention, possibly driven by the uncertainties of the current global landscape. The gender differences in preferences for staying in roles and motivations for job changes highlight the wide divergence in experiences of men and women in the workplace. The emphasis on flexibility with structure, especially among women, indicates the nature of work expectations are evolving, and businesses ought to think about accommodating gender specific needs and preferences within the professional sphere.

3. Women continue to experience the pressure to be visibly present at work for the sake of advancing in their careers

Top reasons for going to the office in general appear to revolve around being with people both on a professional and social level – despite the increasing prevalence and preference of hybrid models and more flexibility. The allure of face-to-face interactions persists, leading the top reasons for going into the office.

Visibility with colleagues (18%), direct interactions with teams (18%), the desire to maintain a boundary between private life and work (13%), and the yearning to be an integral part of work culture (12%) encapsulate the essence of the office as a hub of professional connectivity.

Delving into gender differences, it becomes evident that men, to a greater extent (19%), prioritise going to the office for visibility, compared to a lower percentage of women (6%). A parallel trend is observed in the valuation of face-to-face interactions, with 17% of men considering it a top reason, while only 8% of women share this sentiment. Notably, a distinctive perspective emerges among women, with 20% citing a change of scenery as their primary reason for going to the office, surpassing the overall response rate of 9%.

As we peer into the expectations for work-life balance in 2024, the findings show a majority of 42% anticipate no change in their work-life balance compared to the preceding year, with a slightly higher number of men (45%) holding this view compared to 38% among women.

Optimism is also shared among both genders, as 22% of men and women envision an improvement in their work-life balance in the coming year.

4. Continued pay disparity and a lack of transparency in salary information pose persistent challenges for women professionals in Germany

In the corporate landscape of Germany, a stark disparity in perceptions around gender pay equality and transparency comes to light. A mere 3% of women believe they are paid equally to men for the same roles, standing in stark contrast to the more optimistic view held by 48% of men.

Nearly half of women (48%) sense a prevailing gender pay gap, while a slightly lower 37% of men share this concern. The curtain of salary transparency remains partially drawn, with the majority (31%) stating that their companies do not disclose salary information. Notably, 28% of women express uncertainty about the efforts made to improve salary transparency, a sentiment echoed by a mere 5% of men.

Regarding women in leadership, a concerning 39% perceive a lack of commitment from their companies in introducing or encouraging gender diversity at the top, juxtaposed against the 30% who believe that their companies have already achieved a balance of women in senior roles. 

These findings illuminate the need for concerted efforts by business and industry to address these chasms and foster a more equitable professional landscape for women professionals.

5. Women continue to face lack of genuine company commitment to leadership development despite introduction of quotas

The landscape and outlook for women in leadership roles within German companies continues to be plagued by persisting challenges. A notable 39% of respondents feel that their companies lack a genuine commitment to promoting women into leadership positions, indicating a stubborn reluctance on the part of industry to commit to improvements in this space.

Meanwhile, 30% report their companies as having attained a balanced representation of women in senior roles – a view held more by men (29%) than women (15%).

Interestingly, 19% observe company attitudes toward women through daily visibility, a perspective held by a higher percentage of men (19%) compared to women (8%). However, only 16% perceive these attitudes at the management level, with a marked gender divide as 4% of women agree, compared to 16% of men. The impact of women quotas is a subject of scrutiny, as 15% of women feel that the existing quotas are not affecting substantial changes, a sentiment shared by only 8% of men.

As we consider the implications of these findings in the evolving landscape of hybrid work, the data suggests an uncertain and obstacle filled journey for women seeking career progression to senior leadership. The figures beckon for a continued push toward more genuine commitment by companies to gender diversity in leadership, and the effectiveness of quotas remains a matter of reflection for ensuring tangible and equitable outcomes for women in the professional realm.

About the survey

The German Women Professionals in the Workplace 2024 survey took place over January 2024 and provides insights from an audience of 2000 respondents.  Of the respondents, 45% are female, while 55% are male. In terms of work arrangements, 35% are based full time in the office, while 47% adopt a hybrid working model. Company sizes vary, with the largest cohort (47%) working in medium-sized companies. The occupational spectrum is broad, with the largest cohort, 18%, engaged in engineering/tech and development.  Additionally, 73% of the participants are parents or have dependents, highlighting the intersectionality of their professional and personal lives. In terms of roles, 54% serve as individual contributors, while 46% hold managerial positions, overseeing teams within their respective organisations.