Top German companies resist law to hire more women
Oct 17, 2011, 15:08 GMT
Berlin - Major German companies offered Monday to hire more women for senior management jobs, but resisted proposals to legislate quotas, during talks with cabinet ministers in Berlin.
Germany's dismal performance in promoting women into top business jobs - despite having a woman, Angela Merkel, as chancellor - has prompted Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen to seek a law reserving a fraction of jobs for women.
The 30 blue-chip corporations whose shares make up the Frankfurt Stock Exchange DAX index unveiled a voluntary code of practice at the meeting that would reserve 35 per cent of senior management jobs for women by 2020.
Von der Leyen shot back that the guidelines set out no quota for the highest jobs, on executive and supervisory boards.
Hanging over businesses is a threat in March by Viviane Reding, European Union justice commissioner, to impose quotas in all 27 EU nations if self-regulation does not bring changes by March 2012.
Reding called the DAX companies' offer 'a first step in the right direction,' adding, 'Even 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.'
A recent count showed that only seven out of nearly 190 executive board members at the 30 DAX companies are female.
Monday's paper indicated major differences between the companies on what constitutes a leadership position.
Whereas the airline Lufthansa, carmaker Volkswagen and mail-carrier Deutsche Post define it as the top 1 per cent of staff, Siemens considers one fifth of its workforce to be leaders.
The pledges also differed. MAN, a maker of machinery and trucks, offered to raise the female component to just 10-12 per cent, whereas the fashion and sportswear company Adidas pledged 35 per cent by the end of 2015.
'This is difficult to rate in comparison,' said von der Leyen. The mother of seven added that women faced a 'glass ceiling' keeping them out of the uppermost jobs on boards.
Von der Leyen said she would continue to push for a law in Germany setting out quotas.
She was opposed by Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, whose party, the Free Democrats, has called for business to be allowed to self-regulate on the issue for two more years.
The third party in the Merkel coalition, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union (CSU), also rejected legal quotas.
'You won't get a law on women's quotas while the CSU is around,' said the party leader, Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, on Monday.
Four ministers - three of whom happen to be women - attended the Berlin meeting to discuss the controversy. Both sides agreed to meet again to review progress.
In 2003, Norway passed a law which obliged publicly listed firms to give 40 per cent of boardroom seats to women by 2008. Spain followed suit with a similar law in 2007 and France did so earlier this year.