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Number of women on boards of German DAX firms shrinks during crisis year

The Skyline of Frankfurt is pictured from the 27th floor of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on September 14, 2020. (Photo by Daniel ROLAND / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL ROLAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Blue-chip German companies have fewer women in board positions than a year ago. Photo: Daniel Roland/AFP via Getty Images

Unlike in the US, UK, and other developed economies, the number of women on the management and supervisory boards of DAX-listed German companies has fallen in the past year.

According to a study from the Swedish-German AllBright Foundation, there were only 23 female managers on the boards of the 30 companies that make up Germany’s elite DAX index (^GDAXI) — down from 29 women a year ago — and a drop from 14.7% to 12.8% in the past year. This puts the number of women board-members back to the same level as in 2017.

“The crisis has made it particularly clear that diversity at the corporate level of German companies is still not firmly anchored,” said co-managing directors of the AllBright Foundation Wiebke Ankersen and Christian Berg.


The drop in women on executive boards was only observed in Germany, among the Western nations surveyed.

In the US, the proportion of women on leadership boards rose 0.8% in the past year to 28.6%. In the UK and Sweden, women make up over 24% of board members, recording a 2.2% increase. In France, 22.2% of board seats are occupied by women.

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“Whatever prompts supervisory boards to increasingly rely on men on the executive boards during the crisis, it is a short-sighted reflex that shows how little the diversity of perspectives is anchored at German corporate heads,” Ankersen said.

The study said that two distinct trends can be seen at the top levels of Germany’s listed companies — an overall downsizing of executive boards, and a return to the familiar “tried and tested” pattern of “men relying on men.”

While a proportion of 30% of women on a company’s board of directors is considered to the the “critical mass” in order to change its dynamics, not one single listed company in Germany has hit that amount. Almost half of those in the US are already at that percentage.

The report said just two German companies — Deutsche Telekom (DTE.DE) and SAP (SAP)— will hit a 33% share of female board members in the coming months. Meanwhile, 11 of the 30 DAX companies still have all-male boards.

Commenting on the AllBright report, Franziska Giffey, the federal family minister told German newspaper Handelsblatt that it is “unacceptable that the majority of leading German companies do not use the potential of the many excellently qualified women on their management levels.”

According to Germany’s ‘female quota’ law, which went into effect in 2016, the supervisory boards of big, listed companies (those with 2000+ employees) are required to be 30% female.

However, a survey in October last year found that women made up just 10% of the supervisory and management boards of the 185 largest listed firms.

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