Does care work remain a woman's job?: Why the VBKI boss gives up her job

One would like to talk to Claudia Große-Leege about many things that her exciting job entails.

Does care work remain a woman's job?: Why the VBKI boss gives up her job

One would like to talk to Claudia Große-Leege about many things that her exciting job entails. But now it's about private matters that aren't so private at all, because sooner or later it affects us all and politics and society have to act: We talk about caring for elderly parents and what we do for it. Große-Leege, for example, is resigning from her post, the managing director of the VBKI (Association of Berlin Merchants and Industrialists) needs the time to be able to devote herself to her parents. How did it come about that you gave up your job, which is not just a job, but also a vocation.

Claudia Große-Leege: This job is indeed very fulfilling and of course I asked myself what I was giving up by resigning. The decision was ultimately triggered by the realization that this job cannot be reconciled with care work, at least not in terms of my demands. Care work requires time and flexibility.

You have to be able to afford to stop working, right?

That is absolutely correct. Not everyone has the freedom to reduce their working hours, of course I realize that. I am now looking for something else that is more manageable than my current job. But at the same time flexible and with the possibility that I can look after my parents more at any time. And sometimes about me too. I have been asked several times about the topic of part-time management and I am convinced that this model has a future, but that it does not suit every position. When positions are very closely related to the person, and when representative activities are involved, then there are limits. Jobs like this don't really exist - yet - like sand by the sea... Exactly, but part-time management will certainly become more normal. The question is also what framework the legislature creates, and then it is best to look in the direction of parental leave. With the Elterngeld plus, an attractive model has been created – also financially – which means that a large majority of fathers are now taking parental leave. That was less of a family policy instrument and more of a gender equality policy ultimately also with the aim of giving women better chances of reaching managerial positions. It was about a sustainable security of income and asset development for women.

Did it work? I guess so. The world of work has had to get used to it. Entrepreneurs and employers may not have expected it to be like this (laughs), but suddenly you can no longer be sure that men are always available. They can choose when and how they take parental leave in a maximum of three parts. I was the managing director of the VdU (Association of German Women Entrepreneurs) for seven years, which is involved in women's politics at the federal level and closely monitors how the measures were implemented. As an instrument, it has worked insofar as the care work for the children is gradually being better distributed, i.e. organized less gender-specifically. It is very valuable for our society that we get used to the fact that both men and women devote themselves to such family issues.

What parallels are there between caring for the parents and spending time with the children? My impression is that, quite differently from parental leave, for which there has been a strong lobby in recent years - and for which a relatively attractive social framework has been created with legal certainty and many concessions on the part of employers - the issue of care has not really arrived at the necessary switching points. This is still a marginal issue and this applies to everyday work as well as to the attractiveness of the regulation of care.

With children it is about progress that we make with them, with old people it is only regression and nobody knows how long that will last.

That's right. Honestly, you should find a balance in both cases and be careful not to have other intellectual challenges as well. People who care for their relatives are exposed to an immense double burden. The topic is not pleasant, one does not like to see familiar people becoming fewer. And the time cannot be estimated at all. With children you know that they go to kindergarten or school, that can be structured, but that cannot be planned for the parents. How do you see that in your case? My parents are in their mid-80s and I was able to accommodate them in a wonderful facility. It's not about me wanting to do all the nursing work around the clock, it's about being there for them. My parents were still able to make a lot of decisions themselves, they chose where and when. My parents are a great role model for me, I learned from them to take things into my own hands. And by moving to Berlin into assisted living, I actually wanted to ensure the compatibility of work and care and my life. But then I saw that my mother had lost a lot after a hospital stay. I quickly got the impression: I can't go on like this before, something is coming my way and I can't reconcile that with this job. It's not about stopping completely. But a job in management, a job that entails so many appointments, representational duties and often lasts into the evening - all of which I love very much - I can't continue like this if I want to do justice to my parents and my work .

You also have to take care of yourself … (laughs) Yes, when you're in your mid-thirties it's easier to handle a lot of things, now you have to see where you are. I felt a bit under pressure in terms of time and the impression that I had to change something if I wanted to meet my demands – in terms of work and parents. But I like to have things under control. I didn't want to act when it was urgent. You want to be there for your parents, understandable... Yes, mainly because I'm "unlucky" (laughs) that my parents were always wonderful parents and we have a very close relationship. Also, I don't have any siblings, so of course it's up to me to accompany my parents. That is my wish. My parents would have said, it's fine, child, we'll manage. But I notice that the closeness is good for all of us, I like doing it. In life you have to ask yourself what else you have in mind. And it's kind of a silent intergenerational contract. What do you mean? That I'm doing something now that I might also like later on. So that my children will also be there for me later (laughs). Of course you never know. There is no guarantee for that. I come from the baby boomer generation, and the current generation should actually work more due to demographic change. There are so many of us. Is our social system enough ...... and the staff, well. A big issue is coming our way. It is good if we deal with this in good time. We see what's going on in the job market. We've been talking about the demographic effect for a long time, now it's here and there's a lot of whining. The issue of caregiving is a huge challenge, and that's why we need to rethink these caregiving times. And by the way, maybe with the kind of women's political glasses that we put on for parental leave. Mainly because the young workers who grew up in a prosperous environment don't realize that you work as hard as the older generations. Much more attention is paid to private interests today, while my generation was much more career-focused. Again and again the old topic: women and care work ...

Of course, I find it almost a bit annoying that I of all people are now fulfilling this cliché again, after years of doing women's politics. If only it had been at least one man who makes this decision now. Vera Schneevoigt (editor's note: the Bosch board member recently attracted attention because she also gave up her job to look after her parents) is a woman who is skipping a great board job to look around to take care of the parents. It would be nice if we soon heard from a man who makes this decision. Many men say that they know how big this challenge is. But unfortunately it's often the women who do everything. I have received a lot of encouragement and sympathy, no question, also from men, but I have not yet spoken to a man who would give up income or career and reputation for the sake of the family. That is the urgent political question: How do we want to solve this demographic problem?

Is there any political interest in a solution at all? Unfortunately I think no. Because it runs counter to our current problem. If we made the compatibility of work and care more attractive, if we even ensured that not only women but also men took advantage of this option from the point of view of women's policy, then we would withdraw more employees from the labor market. In view of the scarcity of well-trained workers, this is certainly not the interest. On the other hand, there will be an ever stronger lobby of older people, we will have to take a much more serious look at our social security systems. It will be about a lot more private provision ... ... yes, because it cannot be financed through taxes. What took place in terms of wealth accumulation in our parents' generation no longer exists in our generation, so one can perhaps still hope for inherited wealth. We need to think a lot more about wealth creation and the resulting financial independence. And there is probably no way around raising the retirement age. But that requires even more solutions that companies have to offer their employees if they want to keep them.

Are these radical steps something typically female?

That's my concern! I'm afraid that it serves the stereotypes again. The women take care of the children for a long time and put their careers on hold. I don't exclude myself from that, I also started later for my children - also at my request, of course. And now I'm getting off earlier again. But I'm sure that being fired doesn't mean the end (laughs). When one door closes, another opens. So the children are out of the house - then the parents come ... That's how it looks. Not straight back home, but somehow it's an almost seamless transition. Still family first?

Was always my motto. That's what you should take care of.

Sabine Oelmann spoke to Claudia Große-Leege

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