More colourful, more beautiful

Unfortunate remarks regarding board diversity made by Josef Ackermann, the chief executive of Deutsche Bank, have landed him in almost as much trouble as when he flashed a V-for-victory sign upon entering a German courthouse in 2004, when he faced trial for approving controversial bonus payments at Mannesmann, the engineering company acquired by Vodafone in 2000.

A recent editorial in the Financial Times points out that Europe’s most prominent banker should have known better when he “revealed how far attitudes must change by embellishing his statement with the misplaced and patronising comment that this [more women in top executive roles] would make boards ‘more colourful’ and ‘more beautiful’”.

Is Mr Ackermann a one-off or are attitudes to gender diversity in Germany this much behind the curve?

The 2010 European Board Diversity Analysis by Egon Zehnder International, the executive search company, examines 340 of the largest companies in 17 European countries and provides revealing comparative data.

While Germany has only 8.7 per cent of board positions allocated to women, Portugal and Italy have even less. Scandinavian countries score highest, where one in three board directors is female.

However, the picture is different for executive board positions. In Germany, women occupy a handful (five) of the 218 roles, or 2.3 per cent.

An earlier report in the FT quotes Elke Holst, who specialises in gender studies at DIW, the German Institute for Economic Research. She says the country’s working population will be in decline from 2015. “If Germany does not massively reroute by including more women, things will become very difficult,” she warns.

In spite of demographic pressures, Teutonic countries do not appear to be changing their hiring strategies at senior levels. Although 20.4 per cent of the 500 Europe-wide board placements in the year prior to the publication of the Egon Zehnder report went to women, that figure was not consistent across borders. In some countries, women comprised more than 30 per cent of new directorships (36.4 per cent in Sweden, 37.8 per cent in France and 62.5 per cent in Norway), but the female hiring rate in Austria and Germany was below 10 per cent.

There is some good news. Deutsche Telekom has vowed to have 30 per cent of management positions occupied by women by 2015.

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.