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Why We Cannot Afford Gender Inequality

06/20/2017 08:42 EDT | Updated 06/20/2017 08:42 EDT

During my first semester at university I was studying at the library with a good friend of mine. He studied business and had to practice cost-benefit analysis and decided to do a little case study on me. He compared all the costs my parents had for my education to what I would earn later in life and he did the same regarding taxes and the pay-off for society. 

When he presented his results to me they came out negative. I was confused. How is it possible that I devote so much time to getting a good education and it is not supposed to pay off for me or for society? I took a look at his notes myself. It turned out he made the assumption that I would leave the work force to have children at a certain age and never return.

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I told him I had no intention of doing so and we had a laugh about the whole situation. But the story holds a truth that goes far beyond my personal plans in the future. We simply can't afford that so many women in Germany leave the work force once they have children, not returning at all or more importantly not to their full potential.

This is not just an issue regarding female rights or female empowerment. It's an economical need. As an aging society in a globalized world we need to ensure that we are using all the potential we have.

How do we make it possible for more women to return to their job once they have had children? And how do we ensure that when they return they are able to flourish and reach their full potential?

What we need are not new laws on equality but more people putting the rules we have into action.

One obvious assumption is that we need to improve the laws on parental leave. But taking a look at the German law it already provides a lot of opportunities, including paid leave for mothers and fathers, job-security and various part-time options.

While employees in other European countries seem to happily adapt those approaches on work and parenthood, Germany is left behind, struggling to define the role of females in society.

What we need are not new laws on equality but more people putting the rules we have into action and leading as an example for others. Men and women in all work areas and on every job level have to show that taking time off to start a family does not have to be the end of a successful carrier. We have to stop viewing it as stepping down but rather as stepping up by taking on even more responsibility in society.

What we need is a social setting in which both men and women feel comfortable and supported to start a family and find ways to equally share their responsibilities. That includes a corporate culture that allows longer absences for both parents, a proper child-care system and flexible working hours.

Once we establish such a culture, child care will no longer be linked as strongly to one gender. That ensures that an employer can chose between candidates based only on qualification, they are no longer presented with the choice between a woman that might leave the job at some point and a man who will most likely not.

I hope that by the time I decide to have children society has adapted to these standards and I will be able to contribute to the labour force for many more years after.

By Marleen Och, G(irls)20 Delegate, Germany

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