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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