Black Women Working Abroad – Germany

In an effort to maintain some control over my personal brand, I admit that I will “google” my own name (as well as the name of my company and projects) at regular intervals. It’s interesting to see how some of my activities rank online, but even more interesting to see where unexpected – or “unauthorized” – mentions pop up.

It was during one such search today, that I came upon an interview I had forgotten I’d given Carolyn Vines for her blog, Black and (A)Broad. In this interview – which focuses on my experiences as a black American woman working abroad – this particular question and my answer reflect some of the intercultural difference you must be aware of if you are planning to work abroad:

What are two main differences between the German work ethic and the American? What about differences in the work setting? What about salaries?

I think both countries have a similar work ethic, but it’s manifested in different ways.

Americans are quicker to get things done, and take into stride more easily that there might well need to be course corrections along the way. Germans focus more on getting things done right, which often means they are slower out of the starting block than their American colleagues.

Americans believe in working a lot. With the loosely meshed social support system, Americans work more hours/multiple jobs in order to achieve more (bigger homes, number of automobiles, etc.), but with comparatively less security. Germans, on the other hand, believe in working hard and playing hard, which explains the relatively long vacation time here (and other parts of Europe) compared to in the States. Though things are changing, they also profit from a tighter social support system.

American office culture is generally more informal. People tend to address each other by their first names and are more collegial. In contrast, the office culture in Germany (still) tends to be more formal. People more often refer to one another as Mr./Mrs., and use the formal “Sie” as opposed to the informal “du” to address people.

More American women work outside the home. In many cases it’s a necessity, but there is also a social trend that encourages mothers to work. As a result, there are also more women in high(er) positions. Significantly fewer German mothers work. The availability of decent childcare is limited, making full-time employment difficult if a good support network is lacking. Although the number of women who (have to) work is rising, there is still a strong belief that it’s better for the development of (small) children if there is one parent in the home as primary caregiver.

It’s hard to compare salaries, simply because different industries have different standards. Overall I would say that Americans have a greater sense (also: need) of job mobility and therefore – in some areas – greater chances to increase their income. Germans in general have more benefits (healthcare, job contracts, etc.).

Click to read the complete interview on Carolyn’s blog!


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