When it comes to the presence of women in positions of leadership in the German economy, Germany is near the bottom in international comparisons, along with India, Brazil, China and Russia. In Germany’s 200 biggest companies, women only represented 3.2 percent of executives.
Image source: Spiegel online
Now, Germany’s labour minister Ursula von der Leyen would like to see legally mandated gender quotas for senior management positions at Germany’s leading companies. Minister von der Leyen recently advocated the introduction of a gender quota for the first time, even though she could have done so as family minister, a position you held from 2005 to 2009. Ursula von der Leyen said that, ten years back, there has been a voluntary agreement with the private sector, on which she has counted. “But the agreement has been an abysmal failure; almost nothing has changed for women.” She now demands a gender quota of min. 30 percent on executive and advisory boards as well as sanctions for those companies that do not respect the law.
Despite of Ursula von der Leyen’s advance, Kristina Schröder, her successor as family minister, has continued to be a vocal opponent of such a quota. Chancellor Angela Merkel herself also does not call for a quota system, but still rejects government interference in hiring decisions. She says that companies deserved another chance to get more women into management on a voluntary basis.
As often when it comes to family and gender equality policies, Germany would be well advised to follow France’s example. Only very recently, in January 2011, France has implemented a gender quota law for supervisory boards, which becomes legally binding in 2017. The quota will apply to companies that have more than 500 employees and that generate at least €50 million ($69 million) in annual sales. If a supervisory board doesn’t meet the quota, its decisions are valid, but the board election is invalidated and members aren’t paid for attending the meetings. That hurts the advisory boards that resist installing female members, but it doesn’t penalize the companies. Unfortunately however, France has not enacted gender quotas for executive boards. Ursula von der Leyen wisely goes one more by asking for quotas in supervisory and executive boards in Germany.
Of course, in Germany, more measures besides gender quotas for company boards are necessary to increase women’s participation in economic decision making. Germany needs more childcare options, nursery schools that are open longer and schools that don’t send the children home at noon. According to the head of the German Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Martin Wansleben, these measures are urgently needed, as Germany can no longer afford to ignore 50 percent of the qualified potential employees.
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