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Heroes in need? Men’s fear of equality

The country needs heroes
The country needs heroes Pixlr
Martina Lackner

Whether the discussion about Thomas and Michael in the top management levels, about those who refuse quotas and supporters, or why women should come into the lead – we always work on the same questions of promoting women. But neither diversity events nor studies that speak for women in management, or companies’ confessions that diversity is their maxim, can decisively change the gender disparity in German executive floors. Our doing and talking, in which men and women put a lot of energy, have little effect, let alone lasting changes in the behavior of decision-makers. Now comes the quota, a milestone for some, a drop in the bucket for others, hence also called the mini-quota.

Let us rather dedicate ourselves to the question of why German men find it so difficult to achieve equality. It’s about power and power games, about machos and aggression, even more: about the enemy image of women, as the news magazine “Spiegel” headlined some time ago. What is behind the power games, machism and the supposed enemy images? As a psychologist and psychotherapist, I have dealt intensively with this question over the past few years. A depth psychological investigation in German companies that I carried out together with colleagues in 2020 on the hidden career resistance of women opened up a completely different perspective on the topic of equality.

Those who stubbornly defend themselves are driven by deep-seated fear

As tough and tenacious as the discussions and decisions about quotas, gender issues and diversity are themselves in politics, one must assume that the entire equality discussion is in the context of conscious or unconscious fears of the male decision-makers. Those who stubbornly resist and defend their benefices show defensive behavior that can only be triggered by deep-seated feelings of fear. In other words: threatening gestures and dominance behaviors are visible on the outside, while the opposite takes place in the hidden interior. Could it be that we basically have male leaders who go into massive resistance out of financial or psychological hardship? Do we have heroes in need?

Let’s take a look at possible scenarios that could harm men when they put women in leadership positions. The quota will prevent boardrooms from being entirely male-dominated, but it will probably not prevent the revolving door effect. Even the best protection against dismissal does not help if you want to get rid of people. Does the competent woman become a threat and force the hero to fight?

Financial hardship

More women in management positions mean fewer top positions for men. If a man puts a woman in the lead, it could happen that she is better than him and at some point takes his position. That is why every woman who becomes pregnant, stays on parental leave for a long time and only returns part-time is actually secretly welcomed. One less competition.

However, men who see themselves as breadwinners for the family, or who are forced into this role by their own partner and society, will struggle to maintain their position. Loans, a house, children, a woman who does not work at all or only part-time, and much more depend on his income. It is understandable that men do not just want to give up their material livelihood. After all, the struggle between the members of the sexes is exhausting enough.

Mental distress

The identity of the successful German man is built more than 100 percent on performance and success. A man is successful in Germany when he works day and night and then at some point has achieved the CEO title. And whoever cannot show that as a man in his career is, in exaggerated form, not a real man who does not have a real concept of life. According to the previously widespread definition of a German man, a correct concept of life includes no childcare, no equal distribution of the household and often no work-life balance. Man gives everything for the job.

If such men are then to be overtaken by a woman and led by her in the future, it will be a shame. This is where the increasing competence of women and the millennia-old image of the superiority of men collide and dismantle a long-cherished image of men. Highly qualified and competent women are becoming a threat to men who were previously able to define themselves through status, role and function because they shake the foundations of the man’s identity. The struggle for one’s own identity becomes a struggle for survival, especially in psychological terms. It is about the right to exist and exist, about “life and death.”

In all the discussions against or for gender equality, we have only ever seen the need of women, but never the need of men. Why not? Because it is not recognized as a need. Fear and distress in men are one of the greatest taboos in human history. A real hero, even when he is in need, is firstly never in need and secondly is never afraid. It literally drops smoke bombs so that it is not seen what state it is actually in. Anyone who produces a lot of fog has a lot to hide.

Men will be measured by how they deal with the quota

And what does that mean for the introduction of the quota? No question about it, it is an important tool with regard to gender parity in boardrooms. But it will not be able to solve the problem behind it. It takes courageous men who face their own fear and act as role models in companies. They will be measured by how they deal with their own colleagues, whom they now have to endure through the quota. Yes, bear it. Because women constantly confront them in person with their own feelings of inferiority. That’s unconfortable.

The men in Germany’s companies, at management levels and beyond, are measured primarily by their actions. And not in nice alibi campaigns to promote women, not in lukewarm words in staff appraisals, not in glossy brochures on the subject of diversity or nice videos about their alleged heroic deeds on LinkedIn.

Germany: where are your brave men?


Martina Lackner, In 2019, the psychologist, author and entrepreneur joined a team of four with experts in the fields of female identity and advancement of women, leadership development, psychology as well as systemic family and psychotherapy to research the topic of career barriers for women (side by side study: a psychological investigation of hidden career resistances of highly qualified women). Lackner also offers psychological profiling to analyze the potential of male and female executives.


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