Interview: KfW Chief Economist on family and work

Women are still often faced with the question: child or career? The KfW chief economist Fritzi Köhler-Geib was able to reconcile both. In an interview, the economist describes what is important from her point of view.

tagesschau24: It is important for you to emphasize that balancing children, family and career is not just a woman’s job, but that it also affects men. What do you mean by that?

Fritzi Koehler-Geib: This is perhaps an observation I made in the US. Parents are talked about a lot more there, while mothers are talked about a lot here in Germany. From my personal experience, I can say that building a professional career only works in a team if you have children. And sometimes one, sometimes the other, has to be able to step in. In this respect, from my point of view, it is really very important that we are talking about parents here.

To person

The economist Fritzi Köhler-Geib, born in 1978, worked for the World Bank in the USA for many years after completing her doctorate in economics. In 2019 she became chief economist at the state development bank KfW. Köhler-Geib is the mother of three children.

Importance of domestic help

tagesschau24: There are also single fathers and mothers. What do you advise them?

Koehler-Geib: It is very important that you get enough help for the household and for the children. After all, day-care centers or kindergartens always only cover core times. And if you have a demanding job or work in shifts, then there are simply these off-peak times.

tagesschau24: Is there simply not enough support for parents in Germany?

Koehler-Geib: It is a challenge for Germany to offer employees with children enough help, precisely because there have been staff shortages in the care sector for a long time. My urgent recommendation is to also give people from countries outside Europe access to the job market in Germany. Because if we want parents to be able to be successful at work, then these household chores must also be covered. And I saw in the USA how well it works when households can be handed over to others.

Fritzi Köhler-Geib, KfW Chief Economist, on the compatibility of family and career

tagesschau24 09:00 a.m., 1.3.2023

“A Matter of Priorities”

tagesschau24: Doesn’t that also have something to do with a social way of thinking that in Germany women are more likely to be condemned for sending their children to childminders?

Koehler-Geib: I think it’s a question of attitude and mindset. There are countries where this works very well. Scandinavian countries are often mentioned here as examples where it is socially accepted that both parents pursue a demanding job and still spend time with their children. I, too, choose very carefully what I use my time for. I don’t cook and I don’t have any hobbies. I spend my free time with my family so that I can give my children as much as possible to take with them. That’s a question of priorities. But it is also a question of attitude.

tagesschau24: Wouldn’t you have believed you were capable of this career without your husband by your side?

Koehler-Geib: It’s difficult to say – in hindsight. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have met my husband and that we both really wanted to have children and both made challenging career choices. My husband has always supported me in this and I am incredibly grateful to him for that. Without him it would not have worked out in this way in my case. I was also on missions at the World Bank for a long time, sometimes for two weeks, while our children were still very small.

More women run medium-sized companies

tagesschau24: More and more women are now sitting on the boards of DAX companies – also because the corporations are subject to greater control and the quota for women. What about small and medium-sized companies? Is something happening there?

Koehler-Geib: I am very pleased that we are also seeing a positive development in smaller companies. Almost every fifth medium-sized company is now headed by a woman. And we are also seeing a slow but positive development among large companies. There are now 16 percent women on executive boards. This means that something is happening in Germany in this regard. And I think that’s extremely important, because we know from many studies that greater diversity in decision-making structures ultimately leads to better decisions. Companies that have diverse decision-making teams generate higher returns over the longer term.

tagesschau24: In which areas is there still a need for optimization in terms of the proportion of women?

Koehler-Geib: We see certain stereotypes being fulfilled in Germany, because women are in managerial positions, especially in the service sector. In the manufacturing industry or in IT companies, the proportion of women on the board is still extremely low.

tagesschau24: What advice would you give your daughters when they later have to balance career and family?

Koehler-Geib: I always remember a piece of advice from a lady who came to the university at the time and said: ‘Girls make sure you get the very best education and that you focus on getting really good degrees, good names in yours to have resumes.’ Because when the question then arises as to who will stay at home with the children, then it is much more open as to who will take a back seat in terms of professional development. I would advise my daughters to really do everything they can to get a good education and to open up all possibilities.

The questions were asked by Anne-Catherine Beck, ARD finance editor. The interview was shortened and edited for the written version.

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