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Merkel Seeks Women on Boards as Ackermann Draws Howls

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor. Photographer: Denis Doyle/Bloomberg
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor. Photographer: Denis Doyle/Bloomberg

(Corrects 2006 ranking in 27th paragraph in story published Feb. 11.)

Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel has filled one third of her ministerial positions with women. Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann doesn’t have a single female on the 12-member group executive committee that oversees the nation’s biggest bank.

Fresh from a scrap over making bond investors help cover the costs of bailing out European banks, Ackermann angered Merkel’s ministers by saying last week that his board “will be more colorful and prettier” with a woman. Consumer minister Ilse Aigner responded by telling Handelsblatt newspaper that “if it’s more color or beauty you want, you should go to a flower garden or a museum.”

At Germany’s 30 largest companies, just four of 186 management board positions are held by women, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Barbara Kux, 56, Siemens AG’s head of global supply chain management, became the first woman in 12 years to sit on a board when she was appointed in 2008. The lack of women in top management is a “scandal,” Merkel said at a Feb. 8 conference in Berlin.

“We should do much better than that,” said Barbara Bierach, author of the 2002 book “Das Daemliche Geschlecht,” or The Stupid Sex, which attempts to explain why there are few female managers in Germany.

The nation lags behind in Europe, where some governments have set quotas to improve the balance of female representation in corporate management. Norway was first, in 2003, to enforce female minimums. Spain followed in 2007 with its own legislation, and France plans to impose a 20 percent quota by 2012 and 40 percent by 2016 for its 2,500 biggest companies.

Waiting and Watching

Merkel, who has opposed quotas, said at the Berlin conference that she’ll give German companies “one last chance” to confront the issue before her government enforces change.

At the European Union’s biggest publicly traded companies, one of every 10 board members is a woman, the European Commission said in a gender equality report published last March. In Norway, 42 percent of board members at the country’s largest companies are women.

Women account for about 12 percent of board members at France’s benchmark CAC 40 Index companies, according to a study published last October by Ernst & Young and France Proxy. By contrast, only 3.2 percent of women hold management board positions at Germany’s 200 biggest companies, according to a Jan. 18 study by the Berlin-based DIW economic institute. The proportion is 2.9 percent at the country’s largest banks, up just half a percentage point since 2006, the report said.

Euro Peripherals

“The problem is that in certain areas, like banks and insurers, they like to recruit terribly nice young ladies,” said Sybille Busch, who has run an executive consulting firm in Hamburg since the mid-1980s. “If you recruit lambs, they stay lambs, and you can’t make wolves out of them.”

Merkel, 56, and Ackermann, 63, have disagreed publicly over how to fix the sovereign-debt crisis that has already led to the financial rescues of Greece and Ireland. Merkel has called on bond investors to shoulder the cost of future sovereign bailouts, prompting Ackermann in November to say the chancellor’s remarks were roiling markets and raising borrowing costs.

German lenders hold more than 112 billion euros ($152 billion) of debt issued by the governments of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, according to Bloomberg data.

The spat over how to save peripheral Europe comes less than three years since Merkel and Ackermann worked together to help stave off the collapse of commercial-property lender Hypo Real Estate Holding AG in what would have been the country’s biggest bank failure since 1931.

Ackermann Initiative

Ackermann started a campaign two years ago to promote women at Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, according to company spokesman Christoph Blumenthal. Eileen Taylor, the bank’s global head of diversity, said in an e-mail that Ackermann’s support has boosted diversity programs at the company.

“Joe knows that diversity is a business imperative and that diverse teams are smarter teams and lead to stronger business results,” Taylor wrote in the e-mail.

Deutsche Bank didn’t have a woman executive to send to the World Economic Forum conference in Davos last month, even after organizers offered the company an extra slot. Ackermann’s “prettier” comment was made Feb. 3 after the bank reported 2010 earnings. He also said during the presentation that “it’s unbelievably important that we succeed in bringing more women into management positions.”

Deutsche Bank

Ellen Ruth Schneider-Lenne was a member of Deutsche Bank’s management board from 1988 until her death in 1996. Schneider-Lenne, who was responsible for risk, also was the first female to become a top executive at a major German bank.

About 44 percent of Deutsche Bank’s employees are women, and 16 percent hold managing director or director positions, according to Deutsche Bank’s latest figures.

Ackermann initiated a program entitled Atlas, which selects 20 women each year from Deutsche Bank’s business units and geographical regions “to groom suitable candidates for the bank’s top management,” the company said in its 2009 corporate sustainability report.

Merkel has rejected calls by her labor minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to impose a 30 percent quota, saying German companies should do more to promote women from within. Family minister Kristina Schroeder said she would force companies above a certain size to set and publish quotas for women on management and supervisory boards as a first step.

Germany’s half-day school system and its affluence relative to other countries make it difficult for women to juggle motherhood and a career, and mean it’s “much easier to stay at home,” Bierach said in a telephone interview from Sydney where she now lives.

DAX 30

Deutsche Telekom AG introduced a quota a year ago for women in management positions, becoming the first DAX 30 company to do so. The former German telecommunications monopoly, based in Bonn, aims to increase the proportion of women in upper and mid-level executive posts to 30 percent by the end of 2015, it said in a March 15 statement.

Siemens, based in Munich, has two female executives on its eight-member board. Software company SAP AG and power company E.ON AG each have one. Stuttgart-based Daimler AG plans to appoint constitutional judge Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt to its management board to head compliance as early as next week, according to people familiar with the situation.

Merck KGaA in Darmstadt said yesterday it will increase the proportion of women in management to as much as 30 percent by 2016 from 22 percent.

Raven Mother

Female leadership is more common among family-owned German enterprises, where women run 25 percent of the companies, a report by the Bonn-based Intes Academy for Family-Owned Companies said.

German women “who dare to have a career” are often criticized by their peers, said Bierach, the author of the Stupid Sex. The German term “Rabenmutter,” or raven mother, is a derogative word used to describe women who leave the nest to go to work. There is no male equivalent. The Nazi regime used to award a Mothers Cross as part of Adolf Hitler’s plan to encourage Aryan population growth.

“There’s a terrible legacy from the Nazi period,” Bierach said. “It’s a deep-seated culture problem. You’re a raven mother if you don’t make the spaghetti yourself.”

Germany has slipped to 13th place in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, which ranks 134 countries on 14 measures of treatment of and opportunities for men and women, published in October. It ranked fifth in 2006.

Iceland had the highest score last year, while the U.S. made the top 20 for the first time, at 19th place. Yemen was in last place.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Cullen in Frankfurt at;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tim Quinson at

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