Germany may be led by the world's most powerful woman, Chancellor Angela Merkel, but the country still lags woefully behind its international peers when it comes to gender equality in the business world. Not a single publicly traded German company is run by a woman.
In 60 percent of German companies, there are no women at the senior management level, according a study by auditing firm Warth & Klein Grant Thornton obtained by Handelsblatt. Of the 36 countries surveyed, only Japan ranked lower in terms of female representation at the top.
In the United States, by contrast, there are several high-profile examples of women leading industry titans. Virginia Rometty has led IMB since 2012; Meg Whitman has been at the helm of Hewlett-Packard since 2011; and Sheryl Sandberg has run Facebook's day-to-day operations since 2008.
The absence of women in the highest echelons of the German business world is due to a number of factors, from the lack of daycare options for children to social acceptance. Only 25 percent of women in senior positions feel like their co-workers actually support them there, according to the Warth & Klein Grant Thornton study. By contrast, 53 percent of men said they feel supported at the top.
There's been almost no change in the boardrooms and not enough attention is paid to the fact that many companies set their quotas at zero. Kathrin Dahnke, CFO Wilh. Werhahn KG
Last year, the German parliament intervened to remedy the problem, passing a law that requires the countries listed in the DAX 100 to staff 30 percent of their supervisory board positions with women starting in 2016.
Family owned business, however, are the real engine of the German economy. Under the new law, these 3,500 mid-sized companies are required to set their own non-binding quotas by June of 2017. But there are no sanctions for non-compliance, and they're allowed to set their quotas at zero.
Handelsblatt Research Institute and the consultancy KPMG recently surveyed the 250 largest family owned businesses in Germany. Not a single woman is represented in senior management at 211 of these companies, and only 59 women have seats on their supervisory boards.
For all their shortcomings, large publicly traded companies have made greater strides toward gender equality than family owned businesses. Women occupy nearly 27 percent of the supervisory board seats at Germany's 30 DAX-listed companies. At family owned businesses, by contrast, only 17 percent of supervisory board members are women.
The same is true of senior management positions. Among DAX companies, women staff just over 9 percent of these jobs. At family owned companies, it's less than 5 percent.
Claudia Große-Leege, managing director of the German Association of Women Entrepreneurs, runs a database with profiles of 700 women who are potential candidates for supervisory board positions.
While Ms. Große-Leege admits that many aren't yet ready to sit on supervisory boards, she believes part of the problem is that women are often held to higher standards.
They are expected to be at least 40 and have 30 years of work experience; an engineering degree and industry expertise are often prerequisites; and they must be the best candidate both within the company and internationally.
"If you look at current supervisory boards, many members don't have these profiles," Ms. Große-Leege told Handelsblatt.
German companies subject to the gender quota are scrambling to find women who meet all of these conditions. Because there are few women with senior level experience, they are drawing from a small pool of candidates.
Kathrin Dahnke, chief financial officer at Wilh. Werhahn KG and a supervisory board member at Frankfurt International Airport, is one of the candidates in high demand. Since the gender quota law was passed, she's received offers from many companies to join their supervisory boards.
"It's clearly driven by the need to seat women," Ms. Dahnke told Handelsblatt. Even with the law in force, she's concerned that not a whole lot will change.
"There's been almost no change in the boardrooms," Ms. Dahnke said, "and not enough attention is paid to the fact that many companies set their quotas at zero."
Katrin Terpitz and Anja Müller write about SMEs. Martin-Werner Buchenau reports from Stuttgart as Handelsblatt's Baden-Württemberg correspondent. Ulf Sommer reports for Handelsblatt on companies and financial markets. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]