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Inequality still presides in German boardrooms

October 9, 2014

In Germany, it's been up to the companies so far to increase the proportion of women holding executive positions. But the so-called commitment has failed, according to a recent study.

red women's shoes among men's black shoes
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Brakemeier

Despite all debates about equality and promises by German companies, the proportion of women in German supervisory boards has declined. That's according to the current Women-on-Board Index, presented by the association Women in Supervisory Boards (FidAR) in Berlin on Thursday.

Overall, only 5.8 percent of current board members are women, while this figure was distinctly over 6 percent a year ago. The number of women in executive positions is declining for the first time since 2011.

Corporate boards are becoming more female

The situation is better for women on the boards of publicly-listed German companies, in which 18.9 percent of supervisor positions are currently held by women. Three years ago, it was only 10 percent.

Experts suggest this increase can be attributed to the mandatory 30 percent gender quota, scheduled to be introduced in early 2016, for Germany's largest companies. That means almost a third of German board members must be comprised of women.

The overall proportion of female members, both in supervisory and management boards, was 12.4 percent, the index showed. With an increase of 5.9 percent in just three years, this was only a slight improvement, and there was still "plenty of potential for change," said FidAR.

More serious, however, is the number of companies, which "significantly" go back and forgo their aims to increase the share of women in supervisory, management and senior management positions. Earlier this year, half of all companies still had a clear target to improve the proportion of women in their board rooms. Now only 44 percent of firms aim to do so.

Draft law raises concerns

"It is time that a legal requirement makes way for new momentum," said FidAR President Monika Schulz-Strelow in Berlin. She called for the German government to provide "specific legal standards to appoint more women to leadership positions."

In fact, Family Minister Manuela Schwesig has been mapping out a legal quota for women, since companies are not doing enough to promote women on their own. A draft law, worked out in June, provides for a gender quota of at least 30 percent in publicly-owned company boardrooms starting June 2016.

Leading German business associations have sharply criticized the draft. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) even raised constitutional concerns this week about the legislation. The business lobby groups are generally against the proposed quota for women.

el/uhe (dpa, Reuters)