24 Oct, 2011

German companies set voluntary goals for women in leadership

Germany’s thirty largest companies recently announced their individual goals to increase the number of women in business corporate leadership, in the hopes of muting calls by some politicians to legislate gender ratios in the boardroom.  The blue-chip companies which make up the DAX stock index each presented their own specific plans, and they did not have a common definition for what constitutes a leadership position.  But European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the proposals were “a first step in the right direction.”

Reding, who has threatened to impose gender quotas in all 27 EU countries if self-regulation does not make a big enough change by March 2012, added that “the biggest companies in Europe’s biggest economy appear to have seen the sign of the times. More women in leadership positions are good for operational results.”

Some critics fear that forcing gender quotas on corporations would mean pumping “token women” into top management – but Simone Denzler of Business and Professional Women (BPW) Germany argues that Germany’s 98-percent male management boards are evidence that there already is a gender quota.  A report by the Munich-based paper Süddeutsche Zeitung said Germany’s companies are resistant to taking orders on the makeup of their executive and supervisory boards – even if they are willing to make changes.

Most companies differ on both the number of women they want in top positions and their proposed timelines.  Leading sporting goods maker Adidas gave itself the most ambitious goal, seeking to fill between 32 and 35 percent of its leadership positions with women by 2015.

Many other DAX companies like BMW and Daimler were less ambitious, with quotas of 20 percent and longer timelines. Meanwhile, health care company Fresenius said it would continue to consider “qualifications and not gender or other personal characteristics in employment decisions.”   Insurance company Allianz,  leading pharmaceutical company Bayer, banking giant Commerzbank and telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom said they want to have 30 percent female leadership by 2015.

If still nothing changes at the top levels of the DAX corporations, we will need a law…

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