Interview: Jutta Allmendinger on her Career and Gender Inequality

On the International Women´s Day, our podcast series’ host Lynda Iroulo interviews Prof. Dr. h.c. Jutta Allmendinger, Ph.D., President of the WZB. Listen in, as we discuss her journey to the presidency, the driving factors of gender inequality, and her vision for the WZB.

Find a short transcription of the interview below or listen to the full one here:

Iroulo: You became a professor of Sociology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Have you always wanted to be in academia?

Allmendinger: Most certainly not. Up until the age of fifteen, I wanted to become an architect like my father. Then I found out that the study of architecture is really boring because you only have to draw lines but not houses. So, I started to study Sociology and I was immediately into it.

Iroulo: What was your research focus then and how has it changed over time?

Allmendinger: First my research focus was urban sociology. During my time in Madison, Wisconsin, and Harvard, I became more and more interested in national differences of education and vocational training in particular. This is what I wrote my PhD thesis on, which became quite some piece of interest. Afterwards I moved to Munich and was, I think, the first female Professor who got a child. People always asked me about gender issues and how to have children while having a career. So I developed an interest in gender studies as well. Then of course, it all got together to the question of social inequality at large. And I had a strong focus on quantitative methods.

Iroulo: You are the first female president of the WZB. Did you always aim for this? And how is that different from being in a university?

Allmendinger: Oh, it was certainly never my ambition to become the president of the WZB. I even did not apply. I got this phone call, when I was heading the Center for Unemployment Research in Nuremberg, asking whether or not I was interested, they immediately invited me to give a presentation. They first had doubts whether they can really trust me to head ten different male directors. This was obviously a very big question for them. But I am happy that I succeeded, we are all getting along very well.

Iroulo: What factors would you say drive gender inequality in Germany?

Allmendinger: First of all, we have to see that it really is a path-dependency here. The German welfare state is very much up to having one traditional role for men, who are full-time workers and one traditional role for women, which is looking for children, caring for the elderly, and getting the housework done. The entire social welfare system in Germany is set up exactly like this. Whether you look at taxing or social benefits – it is all set up accordingly. Obviously it takes a very long time to change this institutional set up towards one which is really equal for men and women. I think I find this point very important, because it also explains the disadvantages women have in reducing their work time to part-time: they have fewer possibilities to advance in their careers or no possibilities at all to go back to full-time work.

Iroulo: You have been nominated for your third term as president of the WZB. How do you feel about it? And what should the academic community expect from you and the institution?

Allmendinger: I have a clear plan. In my first term as president, it was all about getting the homework done: a very female job, if you want to put it like this: setting up career trajectories for young researchers and establishing a clearer structure of the WZB. My second term was really about working for the social sciences at large. We successfully established the Weizenbaum Institute for the Connected Society and the Center for Civil Society Research. It was very important to me that the WZB shows that it lives up to its responsibility, that it is an innovator and frontrunner. My third term, I want to dedicate to the transfer of our knowledge to the general public. So, you asked me, actually you did not ask me: What about all your studies of education? What about all your studies on gender inequality? Did it make a difference? And I would be hesitant to give you an answer – even though there are examples where I have influenced the public discourse. If we look at the proposal of the IG Metall for a 28-hour-work week: I put forward this idea ten years ago.

I really would like to get involved much more in discussions with politicians and with economic leaders looking at where exactly we have a misfit in the transfer of our knowledge to the broader public. And therefore I am now trying to set up an incubator in the building where the Weizenbaum Institute is located, on Hardenbergstraße. This is something that I think social scientists have to do, in particular in light of the discussion about fake news, the role of science, and things like this. We have to speak up because we now know much more and we are more relevant than we have ever been in those times.

Iroulo: What would your advice be to young women aspiring to positions such as yours?

Allmendinger: I would say:  Don’t get too uptight. Don’t get too obsessed. Be courageous. Think big. But also: ask for advice and have a private life.

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One Reply to “Interview: Jutta Allmendinger on her Career and Gender Inequality”

  1. Nice interview with Prof. Allmendinger. She said three things which really impressed me: (1) She pointed correctly to the path-dependency of women’s liberation/gender equality vis-à-vis the German welfare-state setup, indicating the importance of reforming institutions in order for us to continue to make social progress/necessary gains (as opposed to falling into stagnation or even retrogressing). (2) She recognized the necessity for engaging with the broader public, including the transferral/dissemination of knowledge acquired through WZB research, in an effort to contribute to and positively influence public discourse, acknowledging the current “misfit” and the challenge presented by fake news and other forms of extremist propaganda. Efforts also must be made to improve political education among the general public, so that it is more receptive to knowledge intervention/input, that it is better able to weigh the pros and cons of the argumentation that it will be facing, and so that democratic choices are informed choices and not the result of ignorance, irrational fear, and emotion swayed by bandwagon populism. (3) She offered very sound advice to “aspiring young women” which I am pleased to pass on to my daughter!

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