ONE OF THE BASTIONS OF THE VOLUNTARY approach to getting more women on company boards (after the U.K. of course) has fallen. The German parliament, the Bundestag, recently passed a law requiring 30% of of top companies’ supervisory boards to be female from 2016. If they do not meet the target they will have to recruit more women or leave vacancies empty. The measure will apply to 108 stock-market listed firms that are run by the system of co-determination that includes worker representation on boards. In addition 3,500 medium-sized companies will be required to set their own targets for women on both executive and supervisory bodies as well as in the two highest levels of management.
The poor record of Germany, where women account for only 17.4% of supervisory boards and 6.1% of management boards in the 160 most important companies, and 59% of mid-size firms do not have a woman in a leadership position, has led sceptics such as Chancellor Angela Merkel to come round to the quota idea. The centre-left SPD, junior partner in the coalition government, were the driving force behind the new law with justice minister Heiko Maas declaring ‘The quotas … are the biggest contribution to equal rights since the vote for women was introduced’. Minister for Family Affairs Manuela Schwesig said the passing of the bill was a ‘historic step’ and a ‘good day for women’. Opposition parties abstained from the vote, arguing that the bill did not go far enough with the Left Party (Die Linke) calling for a 50% quota. However there is still opposition among some employers, Car-maker BMW’s spokesman said ‘BMW as a company doesn’t believe in quotas’. It seems, though, that with Merkel now on the other side of the argument the nay-sayers have lost: ‘We can’t afford to forgo the competence of women’ she told parliament ‘We’ve decided to do this and it will happen’.
Angela Merkel with women’s minister Schwesig