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Germany's Corporate Boards Lag Behind on Women

Monday, November 28, 2011

European countries have been following the lead of Norway and instituting quotas for women on corporate boards. Nele Feldmann says Germany should follow suit and demand more from companies than voluntary promises.

Subhead: 
European countries have been following the lead of Norway and instituting quotas for women on corporate boards. Nele Feldmann says Germany should follow suit and demand more from companies than voluntary promises.



(WOMENSENEWS)--New quota requirements are changing the gender mix of corporate boardrooms across Europe ever since Norway led the way by passing a quota law of 40 percent in 2003.

Since then plenty of other European countries have followed:

Spain: 40 percent by 2015 for market-listed companies or those with more than 250 employees.

France: 40 percent by 2017 for market-listed companies or those with more than 500 employees.

The Netherlands: 30 percent by 2016 for market-listed companies or those with more than 250 employees.

Iceland: 40 percent by 2013 for companies with more than 50 employees.

Italy: 30 percent by 2015 for market-listed companies.

Belgium: 30 percent by 2016 for big market-listed companies and by 2019 for small- and medium-sized companies.

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And what about Germany, where women make up 15 percent of the board of directors?

Chancellor Angela Merkel recently expressed satisfaction with a pledge by some blue-chip companies at an October meeting to voluntarily increase women on their boards at varying paces. There Lufthansa pledged a figure of between 15 and 30 percent by the end of 2020. Adidas talked about 30 percent by the end of 2015.

Kristina Schröder, 34, minister of family affairs and a political newcomer, joined Merkel's happy acceptance of these vague promises from the country's top-30 companies.

Fortunately, Ursula von der Leyen, 54, a former minister of family affairs, spoke up. "I already asked for a compulsory women quota in January as for 10 years now I am witnessing that the voluntary agreement does not result in a satisfying outcome," she was quoted as saying by press reports.

'Too Soon to Push'

In an article for the German daily newspaper taz.die tageszeitung, Claudia Pinl said that Germany, despite Merkel being at the top of the political heap, is still so far behind other countries on matters pertaining to women that it's too soon to push for a boardroom quota.

While full-time company kindergartens are common in France, she noted that German mothers still struggle to find half-day places for their children. Moreover, German society still tends to label successful women as butch and working mothers as uncaring. Until such issues are changed, she said, these social perceptions of women make our presence unlikely in the ranks of corporate leadership.

But I disagree. Yes, a change of sensibility is needed to loosen up traditional gender roles, but a change within major enterprises can enforce and accompany that. A law to increase the number of women in top positions would create an opportunity for women to build their own networks and break through old-boy networks.

Certainly the demographics are in place.

Women in Germany today, on average, are better educated than male colleagues. Why should they be stuck at earning, on average, 23 percent less than men?

It is sometimes said that women's wages are held back by our chosen fields of study. That might be true for technical jobs but not for managerial posts in big companies. Women and men both ranked business studies as their favorite fields, according to a 2009 federal survey.

The implementation of a corporate board quota for women would be an important sign of the government taking our Constitution seriously.

"Men and women shall have equal rights," says article three of the constitution. "The state shall promote the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist."

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Nele Feldmann is currently doing marketing for Women's eNews' Arabic website.

For more information:

Corporate Women Directors International:
http://www.globewomen.org/cwdi/cwdi.htm