XX Factor

How to Succeed in Business: Promote More Women

female exec-AP-CHANGED
They're telling us one's not enough.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If Germany wants to better equip itself to attract and do business in the future, the country can no longer settle for so few women in leadership.

  • Facts


    • In German companies, 5.5 percent of board members are women.
    • Laws regulating the number of women in top jobs are already in place in 22 countries, including Norway, Spain, Austria, Malaysia, India and the United Arab Emirates.
    • Germany’s government is currently considering some form of quota for supervisory boards.
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There are many excuses for why there are so few women on the boards of German companies, far too many. Recently even the lack of child daycare was cited in a lame attempt to pardon Germany for trailing even the United Arab Emirates in statistics for women executives.

The fact is you still find women in business suits mostly in the secretary’s outer office. After the share of women on boards of DAX companies slowly rose to 7 percent by 2013, it fell again by two percentage points. So on supervisory boards, the rise of women executives is being eroded after a short boom – even though I’m pleased that two women recently joined the board at our parent company, Pro Sieben Sat. 1 Group.

So what happened after all the euphoria 13 years ago, when the German government and industry agreed voluntarily “to support equal opportunity for women and men in the private sector?” Nothing. Now the remedy for more than a decade of stagnation for women in the workplace can only be a legal quota for women on company boards.

Unfortunately, I agree with our federal minister for women, Manuela Schwesig, who is under no illusions about the chances for fixing the situation. “There will be much discussion about (a quota) law,” she said. “It is about power, influence and money.” The positive action measure for women has many opponents and counterarguments. Among them: Quotas would endanger business freedom and end up discriminating against men.

But if we want to better equip Germany to attract and do business in the future, we can no longer settle for so few women in leadership. And we need a quota to do this, given the apparent apathy of German industry on the subject. It doesn’t matter if it is absolute or proportional, or whether it’s 30 or 40 percent.

Diversification adds business value. Variety among decision-makers leads to better results. This was shown in a number of studies cited in June at the Global Summit of Women in Paris. Discussions in diverse groups are more wide-ranging and nuanced. Different and creative ideas develop.

We also desperately need a quota to foster a more family-friendly work culture.

We need a quota for women because a leadership job is supposed to go to the best person, not just the best man. According to experience, managers surround themselves with similar people. Simply put, men look to promote other men. Put another way, the fewer women who are leaders, the worse their chances of increasing their percentage as top executives.

We also desperately need a quota to foster a more family-friendly work culture. It is still the case in Germany that most women shoulder both their job and family responsibilities. They are world champions in organizing and managing. They know exactly how processes can reliably and efficiently be controlled. Considering their personal experience, more women in positions of leadership also would mean more modern and family-friendly workplaces. The result is better output.

We shouldn’t waste our energy on secondary battles, like complaining about too few spots in daycare or male cronyism or some other feminist debate that leads to no actual results. The question is not whether women are part of the solution or part of the problem. Laws regulating the number of women on supervisory boards are already in place in 22 very different countries, among them, Norway, Spain, Austria, Malaysia, India and the United Arab Emirates. In countries with quotas, some 25 percent of all board members are now female. And in Germany? A mere 5.5 percent.

It’s clear that supervisory boards cannot be the end goal. Women need a stronger presence in top management. Frédéric Oudea, chief executive officer of French banking giant Société Général, for example, is convinced that diversity in leadership is the way to avoid the next financial crisis.

She’s right. So let’s finally get started.
This article was translated by David Andersen. Greg Ring also contributed. To reach the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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