The key to a thriving business? Good family values

Morphsys cares about its employees - and their children. © Jupiter  - The key to a thriving business? Good family values
Morphsys cares about its employees - and their children. © Jupiter
At the German Biotech company Morphosys, a third of the management is female. It is a ratio that most companies today might envy: twice the average. But Morphosys didn’t get there accidentally, and it was not simply a love of the female gender that led the company to adopt its current corporate policy, which includes quotas. It was the only way they felt they could survive – and thrive.

While most highly qualified women disappear from the upper echelons of management at the latest when they have a baby – or when there is a risk of this happening – pregnancy and motherhood are not barriers to career advancement at Morphosys.

On the contrary: Barbara Krebs, who has a doctorate in chemistry, had worked her way up from lab technician to group leader and manager at Morphosys by the time her son Sebastian arrived. Unlike most women working in scientific research, she was lucky in that the addition to the family did not hamper her professional career. Three months after her son was born she went back to work, skilfully mastering the balancing act of a new baby and her job – and retained her managerial role.

Hardly a year had gone by when Barbara, who’s originally from Cologne, was expecting again. Even before her daughter Cornelia was born, she was offered a new position as head of department. Now, the 40-year-old is not only a proud mother of two, but also head of a team of 40 staff. "Without maximum flexibility on the part of myself, the company and my partner, that would never have been possible," she says.

More than anything, it was economic considerations that made Morphosys decide to adopt such a female-friendly policy. For years, expectant mothers went on maternity leave – and all too often did not return, frequently because of the lack of flexible hours and part-time contracts on offer.

An incredible loss of know-how,” remembers head of HR Silvia Dermietzel. This in a sector already suffering from a chronic shortage of personnel with the right skills. “If we wanted to continue growing, we just had to develop new models to keep the expecting and new mums on board.”  A mammoth task but, she says, “it's working!”
The kids are staying at the firm's own day care. © Jupiter
The kids are staying at the firm's own day care. © Jupiter

Just a few years ago, 20-hour contracts for laboratory technicians would have been unthinkable. The general opinion at the time was that it would be difficult to integrate part-time staff in this industry; the decision-makers feared more mistakes would be made due to frequent handovers in the middle of the day. Simon Moroney, CEO at Morphosys, then decided to take the plunge. The laboratory technicians must commit to at least 20 hours a week, preferably Monday to Friday, so as not to lose touch with events as they unfold.

Those who can are allowed to work remotely on occasion, if things are getting tight at home. There are no timesheets to fill in, they operate on trust. Morphosys provides the necessary laptops and IT infrastructure.

When children fall ill, mothers and fathers alike have the option to stay home and don’t need to involve insurance companies to be compensated for loss of earnings. Morphosys pays them for the first three days, says Dermietzel. But often, it doesn’t even come to that. “Interestingly, the women often take a day’s holiday to look after their child instead of doing it at the company’s expense.” For many, a voluntary tribute to the company, which supports them in the often-difficult balancing act between job and family.

A special boon is the biokids kindergarten near the company’s premises, which Morphosys set up in collaboration with a few neighboring businesses. While their parents are working next door, five kids can currently enjoy themselves in one of the nearby rooms dedicated to building, craft or movement. They can even examine tadpoles in Petri dishes under the microscope in the facility’s very own “laboratory,” outfitted with large scientists’ goggles just like Mum or Dad. The flexible delivery and collection times at the kindergarten also go far beyond what is generally available at state childcare facilities.

Morphosys’ development indicates that having a high ratio of women, many periods of maternity leave and offering part-time contracts do not have to constitute an economic disadvantage for companies. Since Dermietzel joined the company as the head of HR in 2000, the number of employees has risen nearly fourfold, from 95 then to 375 today worldwide; and the yearly turnover increased from 8.5 million euros to 72 million euros in 2008.

Another small sign of how committed the company is to being family-friendly: there is a toy box for children in the office of the head of HR.



Women in Focus Editor
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