How would you describe a typical manager in Germany? Possibly like this: she is in her mid-50s, grew up in West Germany, studied economics, sits in the executive suite of a well-known car manufacturer and is called Thomas. And the so-called Thomas cycle ("Thomas Kreislauf" in German) ensures that this will not change any time soon.
Thomas is one of the most common first names for managers in Germany, along with Andreas, Michael and Christian. This is what a study by Indeed found out. It ranked the first names of the managing directors* of 318,190 GmbHs in Germany between 2002 and 2019. Only men's names are found in the top positions of this ranking. The name of a woman (Katja) appears for the first time in 9th place.
This phenomenon also exists in German stock corporations and their boards of directors. In September 2021, according to the Allbright Foundation report, 95% of the board chairmen in Germany's 160 listed companies were male - women accounted for only 5%. But there is not only an imbalance in terms of gender, but also in terms of age, origin and education.
When the phenomenon became known as the Thomas Circle, the name "Thomas" was the frontrunner: as recently as 2017, there were more Thomases and Michaels (49) than women on German boards (46). Only in 2019 - 3 years after the introduction of the quota - did the proportion of women change. And today? There are still 4 Sabines on German boards, but still 24 men's names, which are more common. So it still exists - the Thomas cycle, even if it is now a Thomas-Christian-Stefan-Michael-Markus cycle.
The Thomas cycle describes the result of subconscious, thoroughly human patterns of action. They significantly influence how German bosses recruit. They often recruit according to their own mirror image, because people instinctively trust their peers more with the job. According to the motto: A Thomas promotes a Thomas.
In-group bias describes a pattern of favouring in-group members over out-group members and thus explains why we judge certain people to be more trustworthy and likeable than others. In the Thomas cycle, in-group bias is at work, ensuring that a Thomas subconsciously prefers to promote other Thomases rather than, say, an Ayla.
When we meet people who resemble us in appearance, outward appearance or character traits, this arouses sympathy and trust in us and we assess the person as competent. This cognitive distortion is called the Mini-Me effect. The more similar a person is to us, the more competent we automatically judge him or her to be. This is why men subconsciously promote those men with whom they have similarities.
Due to the confirmation bias, we tend to prefer and classify as relevant information that is in line with our own beliefs. We like to confirm our own opinion. This means that we can more easily ignore negative aspects and poor performance of people whom we consider more likeable and competent due to ingroup and mini-me bias. Finished is a very homogeneous management body.
We see the Thomas cycle more strongly in German family businesses than in listed companies. The current Allbright report also provides data on this: On 1 March 2022, 8.3 per cent of the management boards of the 100 largest German family-owned companies are made up of women, significantly less than the 160 companies listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, where there are 14.3 per cent women.
German society has long been diverse. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the management of (family) businesses. They seem to be stuck in familiar and well-tried working patterns: "man" keeps to himself. If companies want to inspire employees and especially top talents in the future, it is time to take active steps to build a diverse and inclusive corporate culture.
Diverse teams are more innovative, take less risk and perform better. This is shown by numerous research and studies, such as Cedric Herring's study from 2017. The reason for this is diverse perspectives and backgrounds, which lead to new ideas and better risk awareness.
The way to a diverse corporate culture does not lead past the application process. The selection of new employees is strongly influenced by subconscious human behaviour patterns, biases, which lead to the Thomas cycle. By applying anonymously, you can eliminate subconscious patterns of behaviour and thus automatically establish a more diverse corporate culture in your company.
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