The Bundesrat voted in favor of a proposal to introduce a legally binding quota by 2018 which would initially require companies to make sure that 20 percent of the members on the supervisory board are women. By 2023 the quota would be raised to 40 percent.
Berlins Labor minister Dilek Kolat said a binding quota was overdue "It cannot be that in terms of promoting gender equality, Germany is on the same level of a developing country."
The Bundesrat approved a motion that had been brought by the representatives of Hamburg. The city-state is ruled by the Social Democrats, the main opposition party in Berlin.
The Bundesrat is made up of representatives of the governments of all 16 German states. The gender quota proposal found a majority because it also got the backing of the Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt, two states where the SPD rules in a grand coalition with the CDU.
Friday's decision will trigger a fresh debate on the controversial plans of Family Minister Kristina Schröder, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, who is favor of a voluntary scheme instead of a mandatory gender quota.
Her ideas drew harsh criticism by politicians also within the ruling coalition of Liberals and Conservatives.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, Germany ranks very low in implementing gender equality and especially when it comes to women in the boardroom. German boards of directors are almost exclusively male and women only make up ten to fifteen percent of the members on supervisory boards.
The Bundesrat's proposal will force the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, to tackle the issue again and draft a legal framework.
This will offer a fresh opportunity to get Germany to comply with European Commission's plans to raise to forty percent the female members on supervisory boards of big companies with more than 250 employees and an annual sales volume of over 50 million euros members.
Companies that don't comply could then face sanctions like a reduction in subsidies or even fines.
rg/mz (dpa, afpd, Reuters)