Christine Lambrecht and the women’s quota: The value of failure



WHow can equality in the workplace be reconciled fairly with the primacy of performance and competence? This is a question that occupies many companies and once again big politics: In the weeks and months before Christine Lambrecht’s resignation, the main focus was on the many small and large shortcomings in her duties as defense minister, exacerbated in a New Year’s Eve video that had an accident. But as soon as the question of her whereabouts in office was clarified, all of this became a minor matter.

Instead, the debate suddenly no longer revolved around Lambrecht as a person and politician, but as a woman. Finally, the avowed feminist Olaf Scholz quite consciously and following a campaign promise, his cabinet was made up of equal numbers of men and women (at least if you don’t count the chancellor). This time, quota opponents like Wolfgang Kubicki demanded, competence should be the focus again.

But the implicit assumption that Lambrecht’s failure is also a failure of the quota idea does not stand up to closer scrutiny. It is difficult to measure whether the cabinet, which is made up of equal numbers, is inherently less capable than its predecessors. Anyone who remembers some of the male incumbents from the Merkel and Schröder days will still have doubts about the thesis. There were also spectacular misappointments, especially in the all-important Ministry of Defense – from the minister in the swimming pool on Mallorca (Scharping) to the top plagiarist in the nation (zu Guttenberg). The same goes for the economy, where women’s quotas should promote equality in supervisory boards and executive boards. Examples of men being kicked out abound there. Only when a woman leaves early does the discussion revolve around the sense and nonsense of the quota.

Women have always had to be a little bit more perfect

That women like Lambrecht and before her already Minister for Family Affairs Anne Spiegel Having the opportunity to fail so publicly is indeed a sign of progress on equality – but for a different reason that has nothing to do with quotas and parity. The more women find themselves in management positions, the greater the statistical probability that there will be a flop. There have not been too few such failures among men in the past.

Women, on the other hand, have long had to be a little more perfect than equally qualified men in order to assert themselves. The Chancellor who is immune to all major scandals Angela Merkel is the best example of this. The figures from the socio-economic panel recently published by the FAS show that this additional pressure to perfect has lessened, at least in the economy: women are now promoted in German companies just as often as men – if they work full-time. They are therefore no longer subject to a higher claim. The quality of the candidates should thus adapt to that of the men – and downwards.

In the Lambrecht case, one should not forget that there are seven other women sitting at the cabinet table and doing their work largely scandal-free, sometimes even very well. Behavioral economists refer to this as confirmation bias: We only notice the mistakes, the silent good examples get less attention.

Incidentally, the importance of Scholz’s election promise should not be overestimated. The last Merkel cabinet included seven women, including the chancellor herself. The step to parity was only small.

So in the future there will be more women ministers who are not up to the job, alongside all those who are doing a good job. You will have to get used to that. If you want equality, you have to admit that women sometimes fail. like men.



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