It takes time to grow a General you know


The latest wafflery on the subject of gender equality is over the in German armed forces.

The Germany army must introduce quotas to boost the number of female officers, the country’s Defence minister said.

Ursula von der Leyen said she was embarrassed that the army currently only has one female general.

“She is the only one in the history of the Bundeswehr. This is a lousy proportion. So we have to consider quotas with clear timelines,” she said, to Spiegel magazine.

This is simply nonsense. Other than the medical service and army bands women have only been able to serve in the German military since 2001. So, anyone who did join up as an officer would, possibly, be something around and about a Major by now. For it takes time to grow a General.

Yes, of course, this is just politics, a female politician playing to the gallery. But there's an important point behind it.

There's no doubt that women were discriminated against in the past in certain ways. The same is true of, over different timescales, various religions and ethnicities. But it is not possible to look at society and shout that because we do not have members of those formerly discriminated against groups at the top of society, or an organisation, therefore we must still be discriminating against them. Getting to the top, whether of society or an organisation, is something that takes a lifetime. The question is whether the lower levels of society are discriminating against members of such a group: if not then we've done the reforms that are necessary and will simply have to wait to see careers mature.

For example, the gender pay gap in the UK is in favour of women in the very early years of working life, doesn't really exist until the average age of first childbirth. That is radically different from how the situation was when women now in their 50s first entered the workforce. We can't thus measure the gender pay gap of those women in their 50s as a method of working out whether reform is necessary to produce equality for young women. It is the same with the German army's lack of female generals. Given that women have only been able to be officers for 14 years what does anyone expect? A 34 year old General or something?

Another way to put this is that evidence of discrimination against one generation of people is not, and should not be used as, evidence that there is still discrimination against the next.