What Women Want

06.02.2011

This week Daniel Winter deals with female equality in the boardroom as part of his regular series of English-language articles for detektor.fm.

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Women at the annual stockholders meeting of the Deutsche Bank. Foto: Thomas Lohnes / dapd.

This week, the German government has been getting itself embroiled in women’s rights. Apparently, there aren’t enough women in the top executive jobs – the question as to whether there should be more is generally agreed upon across the party lines with a resounding ‘yes’. However, whether to use this political will to kick-start an increase in female employment in German companies’ top jobs via a mandatory quota as opposed to voluntary means has been hotly debated.

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Labour Minister, and the Families Minister Kristina Schröder have been publicly arguing on this very subject, more specifically, whether there should be a legally enforced quota demanding that 30% of executives on the board of directors be women.

Whilst von der Leyen was generally for a voluntary quota, Schröder pushed for it to be compulsory.

In the end, Angela Merkel put an end to all the silly bickering, and rejected Schröder’s proposal.

Many of those who I have spoken to on this subject have found the idea patronising. The women I talked to were of the opinion that women generally aren’t as power-hungry as men are, refusing to neglect their family for their career, or simply opting for job security over risk-taking.

Surely the ‘glass ceiling’ cannot be an illusion created by jealous women to explain the lack of other vagina owning-humans reaching the top of the career ladder – but companies often complain of having too small a pool of female talent from which to draw their top executives.

I doubt that forcing them to take on a certain amount would help kick-start a new generation of female control freaks clambering to the top of the jobs pile.

Indeed, further arguments of equality in the boardroom providing for better corporate performance have fallen flat in countries which have introduced such a law (Norway being one example in the NY Times article which I am linking to here), and furthermore, such quotas have led to the board of directors of some companies actually becoming on average less qualified and less experienced.

It’s the old equality of outcome versus equality of opportunity debate – does the fact that there are fewer women in the boardroom really mean that women have far less of an opportunity than men?

Perhaps the idea of all being equal is nice – and I do agree that Germany’s current figure of 2.2% of executives being women is far too low – but in the end, you can’t force equality in all areas without risking negative effects.

The arguments don’t seem to provide convincing evidence of lack of opportunity, rather lack of interest.


What do you think? Are women suffering at the hands of unfair, sexist employers? Or do many women simply lack the need to chase power? Leave a comment or get in touch with Daniel on Twitter.