German government divided over gender quota

Gender quotas in the business world are nothing new, say some women's rights activists fighting to get women into Germany's corporate boardrooms.

Critics say forcing gender quotas on corporations would mean pumping "token women" into top management - but Simone Denzler of Business and Professional Women (BPW) Germany argues that Germany's 99-percent male supervisory boards are evidence that there already is a gender quota.

"What man is afraid of being labeled the token man?" she asks, answering her own question: "All of them are quota-filling men."

Denzler - like some of Germany's top-ranking women politicians - wants to see legislation dictating women's rise in corporate ranks. "Up to now voluntary regulation hasn't worked," she says.

'Enough lip service'

German Family Minister Kristina Schröder and Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen see the matter similarly. Ahead of this Monday's summit of 30 DAX-index corporations, Schröder said she wants to introduce a fine for companies lacking female leadership.

"If still nothing changes at the top layers of the DAX corporations, we will need a law," von der Leyen told the Sunday newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. "That's my strong belief."

Schröder is also in favor of a law - but only one that would require companies to follow through on their own self-imposed goals.

"The flexible quotas that I envision for executive and supervisory boards would allow companies complete freedom in decision-making and design, while at the same time achieving the greatest degree of legal obligation," Schröder told the business weekly WirtschaftsWoche.

Following Schröder's proposal, the appointment of executive boards that do not meet a company's own goals would be considered invalid and could be challenged. Companies that do not hold to their promised male-female ratios could also face fines of up to 25,000 euros ($34,700), according to news magazine Der Spiegel.

Corporate discrepancies

According to a report by the Munich-based paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's companies are resistant to taking orders on the makeup of their executive and supervisory boards - even if they are willing to make changes.

According to the newspaper's research, most corporations plan to fill their upper management with 20-30 percent women.

But companies differ on both the number of women they want in top positions and their proposed timelines. Insurance company Allianz, Bayer, Commerzbank and Deutsche Telekom say they want to have 30 percent female leadership by 2015. Other DAX companies like BMW and Daimler are less ambitious, with quotas of 20 percent and longer timelines. Meanwhile, health care company Fresenius has said it will continue to consider "qualifications and not gender or other personal characteristics in employment decisions."

CEO Gabriele Sons of the metal industry employers' association Gesamtmetall is also against a quota.

"I think a quota is utter nonsense. Jobs should be filled according to qualification and not by gender," Sons told Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel.

Trailblazers and sticks in the mud

Labor Minister von der Leyen has not been deterred by the critics. She has said her ministry will examine the gender makeup of every single corporation.

"There are trailblazers and then there are sticks in the mud," she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, adding, "We should be calling a spade a spade."

"A true cultural transformation must also be visible at the top. Otherwise it sends a signal to all talented women in Germany and abroad: 'You can work here, but to pursue a career you'd be better off somewhere else.'"

Von der Leyen said a law was needed "that defines clear goals and a timeline – and what will occur if the goals aren't met.“ The labor minister would like to see such a law come into enforcement on July 1, 2012.

Before that can happen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel must be convinced the move is necessary. Earlier this year, von der Leyen's push for a gender quota met with opposition from Merkel, leading to an agreement that the companies should work toward goals to which they committed voluntarily.

Equal mediocrity?

Simone Denzler says she could live with either of the ministers' proposal, though she prefers the von der Leyen approach.

She says she is not concerned that a legalized gender quota could lead to underqualified female leadership. "There are so many mediocre men in top management. There won't be real equality until there are just as many mediocre women."

Economy Minister Philipp Rösler, a member of Merkel's coalition partner the Free Democrats, has rejected binding quotas. "Already today, anyone can voluntarily say what quota he wants to meet," Rösler told the magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

Disagreement over the issue continues within Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats, and with their coalition partner, meaning the possibility of gender quotas becoming law remains a slim one.

Author: Tobias Oelmaier / dl
Editor: Matt Zuvela

source: deutche welle

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