East German executives: where are they, the Ossis?

Whether gallows humor helps to make the problem clear? Let’s try. If almost 32 years after German reunification, exactly one person among the presidents of the 100 largest German universities has a biography from the East, that’s an improvement. In 2016 there was not a single East German rector at all. All management positions were occupied by West Germans.

In this respect, the title of a current study that the MDR and the University of Leipzig have now presented is perhaps well chosen. “The long way to the top” is the name given to looking at how East Germans make it into the elite. But only if you like said gallows humor. Because the problem behind it is manifest – and it won’t go away either.

East Germans are underrepresented in top positions everywhere: in addition to science, also in politics, the judiciary, the media and corporate boards. This also applies to East Germany. It was always assumed that these things would grow together over time, but they don’t. On the contrary: In some areas the development is even declining.

Lack of representation is a democracy problem

This is a disaster, and not just an individual one for people with East German roots. It is also a problem for democracy when people do not see themselves represented. They then lose the connection and the desire to get involved, distance themselves from the state, from the institutions, from the elites.

The theme is a revenant. Data is collected at regular intervals. The results are always equally devastating. And so one wonders what the current government commissioner for Eastern Europe, Minister of State Carsten Schneider, would like to do about it. However, he also has no brilliant ideas. People felt alienated. competence is lost. That’s not good, he says.

But he doesn’t want a quota of the kind that has been discussed before. Also because it is not so easy to say, at least for the younger generation, who is actually East German. In such cases, it is always said who was socialized in East Germany. But that is also the child of West German parents with the appropriate networks if it grew up in the East.

The lack of networks is the basic problem here – as with other diversity issues. Just as women will never get half of all management positions without a quota, because men mostly help men. Hire them, promote them, favor them. East Germans feel the same way when West Germans have already established themselves in the top positions. The biographies, special features up to and including school degrees then seem strange and lead to exclusion. And if you don’t have a network, you get nothing in such a structure. Diversity would be an advantage – for everyone, including West Germans.

Schneider initially relies on raising awareness. He wants to draw attention, create a bad conscience – again and again. That won’t do. At the presentation of the study on Wednesday, Schneider himself said that he knew people who withheld their East German biography in their CVs in order to have a better picture. It is also about tangible prejudices. He now wants to develop a concept by autumn. After 32 years, however, it is about time.

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