Corporate Germany takes a step towards equality

At the end of last week, Germany’s 30 largest blue-chip companies listed on Frankfurt’s DAX index pledged to increase female representation on their boards. The country has lagged behind other developed economies, with just 2.2 per cent of its boardroom posts occupied by women.

“Our goal is to reach a sustainable, company-specific personnel development, as well as adequate representation of women in leadership positions, particularly in top-level management,” the companies said in a joint statement.

It has been left to individual companies to determine what percentage “adequate” might be, but they will be required to make public their plans and update them yearly until 2013.

Corporate Germany’s track record for effecting change voluntarily has not been encouraging. A voluntary commitment in 2001 by companies to increase women’s representation in management positions has borne little fruit a decade later.

However, political will has been toughening over recent months, and the threat of formal quotas has encouraged companies towards this agreement. Six of the 16 ministerial posts in the cabinet of Angela Merkel, the chancellor, are held by women.

In an earlier FT report about the status of women in the German workplace, Daniel Schäfer and Peggy Hollinger reported that until 1977, a husband in Germany was legally able to terminate his wife’s labour contract. Even today, inadequate childcare provision presents an obstacle to women with children returning to work.

There may need to be a much deeper shift in cultural attitudes to women, family and work for German companies to catch up with other developed economies in diversity practice.

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