The proportion of women in top positions of German companies is rising slowly. However, they are still a rarity in the executive boards: only 8.8 per cent of women occupy the executive floors of all 160 German stock exchange companies. Why superintendents have a hard time, explains Wiebke Köhler. She was the personnel manager of the insurance company Axa - but left the post after less than a year. Afterwards she wrote the book: "Chess of the lady! What woman (and man) should know about power plays in the management".

ZEIT ONLINE: Mrs. Köhler, four top women have already lost their posts this year, including Janina Kugel, HR Manager at Siemens, and most recently Valerie Holsboer from the Federal Employment Agency. Why do you think so many women on the board lose their posts faster than men?

Wiebke Köhler: I think that people are more sensitized because there are fewer women on the boards. That's why it stands out more. This is also coming and going in men. The length of stay in board positions is much shorter overall than it was 20 years ago. A second reason: women are brought into such positions for specific reasons; certainly, because that is good for diversity. But then it turns out that with their slightly different style of leadership or the other way of working can not always be handled well.

Wiebke Köhler is a graduate in business administration and worked for 23 years in strategy consulting (McKinsey and Roland Berger), in line tasks (eg at Swiss Air Lines) and as a partner in executive search (Egon Zehnder, Heidrick & Struggles). Until 2018 she was the personnel manager of the insurance group Axa. Afterwards, she wrote two books, led a large research project on the topic of employee retention and is currently setting up her own strategy consultancy. © private

ZEIT ONLINE: Sitting as a woman in a leadership position on a presentation plate, where to look more closely: What mistakes makes them?

Köhler: Yes, that's how it seems to me. They are more noticeable because women in higher positions are simply outnumbered. I also believe that women measure with different standards. If a guy in a fashionably tailored suit comes to the meeting, he'll attract attention, but not everyone will break their mouths about it. When you go to the conference as a woman in a red dress, you are called "the woman in red". And the name then gladly carries on in follow-up meetings. On such a simple theme as outfits shows that women are commented differently.

ZEIT ONLINE: What is going wrong? The problem can not be just a red dress.

Köhler: Women often think - and I've thought so for the past 23 years - that loyalty is mutual: if I'm loyal, the other one will return loyalty to me. They also believe that diligence and content issues mean success. My impression from many conversations and over 50,000 reactions to my book is: There are many power games and intrigues - and nobody talks about it. These power games are definitely male - because they are made by men - and are interpreted differently or not recognized by women. This creates conflicts. I believe that women often understand this too late and invest time in the wrong place by claiming to be diligent and perform well. The intrigue sensor is missing because much of the work done by women flows into team building and content.

ZEIT ONLINE: Why do not you talk about it?

Köhler: I think there is fear behind the silence. Most fear that this will harm their careers in the Group. That they do not get a promotion or are marginalized. You do not want critical voices in any environment.

ZEIT ONLINE: Top women like Kugel or Holsboer do not talk about what actually happened. What are women like her still afraid of being fired from?

Köhler: On the one hand, it's internals that you should not talk about publicly. At least I suspect that is the case with the other women. In part, it is certainly regulated by contract. And there are some who plan on making a career in the corporate environment, and there's no point in discussing that in public.

ZEIT ONLINE: You also do not speak publicly about your time at Axa and why you left there after such a short time. Why?

Köhler: I left Axa for personal reasons by mutual consent. Axa and I have agreed to this wording and I abide by the contractual agreement.