Gender Inequality

Boys' Club Persists at German Banks

Male Bankers source Photographer's Choice Getty Images
Germany's banking sector is still a big boys' club.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Despite paying lip service to career advancement for women, the issue is still a low priority at most German banks.

  • Facts


    • German banks have shown little progress in achieving gender equality over the past five years, a new study shows.
    • Only 11 percent of seats on German banks’ management boards are occupied by women. On the level below the management boards, 17 percent are women.
    • Flexible working times in executive positions are rare.
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Carola von Schmettow is a successful banker. She is also an anomaly.

As the head of  HSBC Trinkaus in Düsseldorf, she is one of just three women who have reached the very top at one of Germany’s 100 largest banks.

Her example shows just how much catching up the country has to do in terms of gender equality, even with a new law that requires banks and other large companies to adopt a gender quota by mid-2017.

That’s because the lower-level of such quotas remains the status quo, even if there are a few ambitious exceptions to that rule.

“We still have too few women in leadership positions on the management boards of banks,” said the managing director of the Association of German Banks Michael Kemmer recently.

Despite plenty of talk to the contrary, the issue remains a low priority in the industry, according to a human-resources study by consulting firm ZEB seen by Handelsblatt.

Based on a survey of 900 bankers from 579 institutions, career advancement for women landed in next-to-last place among the problems addressed by personnel managers on a daily basis, it found.

And that means little has changed since similar surveys in 2011 and 2013, when the advancement of women bankers was at the very bottom of their list.

“It's a sad state of affairs that a quota is necessary, but I think that a fixed guideline acts like a catalyst and provides the necessary impulse.”

Katharina Herrmann, Head of Marketing, ING-Diba

ZEB asked both personnel managers and leading executives at the banks which issues were most important to them, and where they see the greatest need for action. The only issue that rated worse than the career advancement of women for these respondents was the introduction of a mandatory gender quota.

But Katharina Herrmann, the head of marketing at direct bank ING-Diba, said that such measures are the only way to foment change.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that a quota is necessary, but I think that a fixed guideline acts like a catalyst and provides the necessary impulse,” she said.

katharina Herrmann ING
Katherina Herrmann is head of marketing at ING-Diba. Source: Angelika Warmuth/dpa picture alliance


“Those in positions of responsibility have no choice but to put the issue on the agenda and take a close look at the figures – and we managers are number-driven,” Ms. Hermann said. “The percentage of women would become an issue just like return on equity or risk costs, and after conducting an analysis, goal-oriented programs could be set up.”

According to the ZEB study, only 11 percent of seats on German banks’ executive boards are occupied by women. On the level below the executive boards, 17 percent are women.

This comes as no surprise to Anja Mikus, head of the funds business at asset-management firm Arabesque in Germany, and a member of Commerzbank’s supervisory board.

“In recruiting managers, some personnel advisers continue to favor male behavior patterns,” she said. “Thus, things don’t get past the industry’s formal expression of regret that too few women are to be found for management positions in the core business.”

Many reasons exist for the discrepancy between public avowals of commitment to advancing women’s careers and the reality, said Joachim Hasebrook, who led the ZEB study. The most important reason: “Many bank managers believe that it is enough to be fair to everyone and not disadvantage women,” he said.

Far-reaching changes are necessary to solve the problem, he said, adding that this shows itself in the simple fact that women tend to resume employment at a lower level after returning from maternity leave.

“To prevent such aberrations, banks would have to be ready to revise their structures and develop models, for instance, that make it possible to exercise managerial responsibilities on a part-time basis,” Mr. Hasebrook said.

But so far, many German banks have resisted such measures.


Women in Banks-01


Ms. Herrmann, who is actively advocating for the advancement of women at ING-Diba, framed the issue of part-time schedules in a larger context.

“First of all, it must be said that there are already enough women in banks. More than half of all employees are female. But the higher the hierarchical level, the fewer there are,” she said.

“One shouldn’t believe, however, that there is a patent remedy for solving the problem quickly. It doesn’t do any good to say, ‘We will make provisions for part-time employment, and everyone will be happy.’ The problem must be addressed from many angles, and a clear commitment from the management board is required,” Ms. Herrmann added.

At ING-Diba, a job guarantee is exactly that, Ms. Herrmann said.

“That way we prevent the career setbacks that threaten many mothers,” she said. “It’s not enough to gaze earnestly into someone’s eyes and assure them discrimination no longer exists, and in a few years the problem will be solved.”

And banks would be doing themselves a favor if they hired more women to management positions, according to a broad study by Credit Suisse.

From early 2012 through June 2014, large international companies with at least one woman on their executive board did 5 percent better on the stock markets than firms with exclusively male leadership.


Michael Maisch is the deputy chief of Handelsblatt’s finance desk in Frankfurt am Main. Yasmin Osman is a financial editor with Handelsblatt’s banking team in Frankfurt. To contact the author: and

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