LONDON -- When then-Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann quipped in 2011
that women in management positions would make life "more colorful and
prettier," the uproar was predictable.
But what has come to surprise many Europeans since then is how bitter the fight over gender equality has become.
the past few years, there has been growing momentum in Europe pushing
mandatory quotas for women in the public arena but also on the boards of
Last month, European Union Justice
Commissioner Viviane Reding introduced contentious legislation requiring
publicly traded companies across the EU to fill at least 40 percent of
board positions with women by 2020 - or be hit with sanctions to be
decided by the EU countries.
That's because in Europe, only one in
eight top companies have a female CEO. Women make up only a quarter of
senior managers and 10 percent of board directors of the continent's
In Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, 13%
of senior management positions are held by women, and only 2% of board
members of top German companies are female.
Monika Schulz-Strelow, president of the German group Fidar (Women on Boards) says it has been a man's world for far too long.
have had the unfair advantage for hundreds of years," said
Schulz-Strelow. "Nobody ever asked men about this unfair advantage of
having 95% men always in those positions. You only talk about it with
Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat,
recently approved a bill to guarantee that women make up 20% of
supervisory boards at publicly traded companies by 2018 (and 40%by
2023). But the legislation faces an uphill battle in the lower house.
head of state Angela Merkel, the first woman to become chancellor of
Germany, has said often she prefers voluntary measures over mandatory
Many agree. A British House of Lords Committee report last month argued that mandatory quotas would not stimulate change.
generate negative perceptions among women and business leaders and do
not address the root causes of inequality," said the report.
The number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies in the USA rose to 20 by August, which a new record, according to Forbes.
United Kingdom, where 20% of senior management is female, joins Germany
at the bottom 10 economies in the world for women in senior management
along with the Netherlands with 18% and Denmark with 15%.
result, the British government last year introduced a raft of voluntary
measures which has significantly increased the numbers.
are encouraged to be more transparent by publishing their targets and
details of their efforts to nurture female talent. They are now required
to report on diversity at board level, and this will be extended to
other levels in the future.
Mary, Baroness Goudie, a founding
member of the UK's 30% Club, which encourages companies to voluntarily
increase the number of women on their boards, warned that mandatory
quotas could in fact damage business.
"Quotas can actually be
harmful to the development of diversity and are not the best way
forward," she said. "The United Kingdom is a great example of where a
merit-led approach to gender diversity on company boards does work."
so, laws introducing mandatory quotas for women have been passed in
France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy over the past few
Norway was the first to introduce quotas for women in the
private sector in 2004. Now, nearly 40% of non-executive board members
of publicly listed companies there are women.
"If you want a
transformative change, if you want something to move forward faster, you
sometimes have to impose mechanisms to reach that," said Hilde Tonne,
executive vice president and head of group industrial development at
Norway's largest telecoms company Telenor.
She rejects criticism
that quotas lead to tokenism, or the hiring of women who are not as
qualified as men available for the same job.
"You want someone to
be there because they are the best candidate," she said. "I think you
get more and more competent women to choose from and you get more and
more men that have had to compete with women so they are more competent
now as well."
Others, including prominent businesswomen, say
quotas interfere with the rights of companies to determine what is best
for their businesses.
"We oppose it out of principle," said Nina
Solli at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, an employer's
association. "Owners of companies should be able to decide who is on
boards of directors. We are in favor of the goals of diversity on boards
and in management but not with these kinds of strategies."
Opinions are divided in academic circles also.
from Leeds University in England found that having at least one female
board member reduced by 20% that business's chances of folding - while
having more than one reduced the odds even further.
But a 2010
study from the University of Michigan found that the immediate results
of quotas were poorer performance of the boards.
"The quota led
to younger and less experienced boards, increases in leverage and
acquisitions, and deterioration in operating performance, consistent
with less capable boards," the study showed.
Even so, supporters and opponents of quotes agree that more sweeping change is necessary to diversify business leadership.
no longer really this fight for a quota," said Schulz-Strelow. "A quota
is just a little instrument. Because when we have a quota or when the
work starts, the big change is a change in the culture of the