Merkel Presses German Companies to Promote Women to Board Seats

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged German companies to promote more women to corporate boards, saying pressure to legislate quotas will grow if change doesn’t happen voluntarily.

“The Federal Republic of Germany is quite old -- over 60 - - so it’s about time to get more women onto supervisory boards,” Merkel said after meeting the leaders of German industry associations in Munich today. “I do see positive developments among companies, but things can be sped up.”

While German industry’s pledge to have as many as 40 percent female supervisory board members by the end of the decade is “the right project,” failure to make progress would mean “the threat that we will have to legislate grows,” said Merkel, Germany’s first female chancellor and the world’s most powerful woman in Forbes magazine’s ranking last August.

Germany lags its European peers in female representation on corporate boards. Women make up 7.2 percent of German executive board members and 13.8 percent of supervisory board members, according to an October study by the European Commission. That compares with an EU-wide average of 15.8 percent and 16.8 percent, respectively.

The European Commission adopted a draft proposal by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding in November aimed at requiring supervisory boards to be at least 40 percent female by 2020. Companies may face sanctions if they fail to favor women over equally qualified men.

German Opposition

Germany is against the Reding plan and wants to block it, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported March 6. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the same day that it was “not the job of Brussels” to tell member states how private companies should staff their boards, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

German industry groups representing thousands of companies and small businesses voiced opposition last month to the Reding plan, saying it would impinge on shareholder rights and be illegal.

Merkel commented at a joint news conference with the heads of the three groups opposing the EU proposal -- Dieter Hundt of the BDA employers group, Ulrich Grillo of the BDI industry association and Hans Heinrich Driftmann of the DIHK national chamber of commerce.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.