Sunday, April 3, 2011

Voluntary Gender Quotas 'Only Half the Battle' By David Knight 31 Mar

 Germany's largest firms agreed on Wednesday to increase the tiny proportion of women in top business jobs in the country. But their promise was not enough for those who want legally mandated quotas. German commentators are divided over which approach is best.

Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen (right) talks to Family Minister Kristina Schröder in front of the cameras Wednesday.

 Ensuring women fill more of the top jobs in German business is a hot topic — so it's perhaps ironic that two female ministers are at odds over how to address the problem.
 No one, not even the firms themselves, denies that something needs to be done to redress the balance. Women make up just 2.2 percent of members of executive boards in Germany's top 100 companies, a staggeringly small figure. But how should the country tackle the yawning gender gap?
 The task of turning the tide is made harder by the fact that the issue straddles the remits of Kristina Schröder, the German minister of family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth, and her predecessor and current Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen — especially as the two cabinet members have different views on how best to proceed.
 The debate revolves around whether to legally force big business to meet quotas of women in senior positions, or whether firms should undertake a transformation in management structure under their own steam. Companies, of course, are against being forced by law to take action, and many in Germany's ruling coalition government agree. But von der Leyen is strongly in favour of quotas and has been working to bring about new rules — without much success. A meeting in Berlin Wednesday between managers of the 30 firms listed on the DAX share index in Frankfurt and the ministers resulted in a promise from the former that they would set targets to promote more women in top jobs. It was far less than many wanted.
 Schröder, meanwhile, is generally opposed to quotas, and is aiming for a middle path. "Quotas are always a supporting crutch, but sometimes they are necessary," she said. "That's why I'm suggesting a flexible quota, which the companies agree among themselves, because that's the way they take much more responsibility for the issue."
 The results of Wednesday's meeting were underwhelming for many. Von der Leyen, who hopes for women to make up an average of 30 percent of board members of listed companies by 2018, was among those not convinced by the firms' promise. "I'm not seeing concrete statements, figures, strategies, timetables." she said. "We are at the start of a process — it has to have a target and an end."
 The meeting has reignited the debate on gender quotas in Germany. Its outcome predictably kicked up a storm in the German media on Thursday, with commentators taking up many different positions.

The conservative Die Welt writes:

 "More women at the top — the government and industry agree on this objective. But how to get there is disputed not only in the cabinet, but even among the companies themselves. And that's good, because the skirmish makes it unlikely that an unrealistic, one-size-fits-all solution in the form of a rigid legal gender quota will be introduced any time soon. Companies have at least a few years to find their own path on this issue."
 "Firms which still do not understand that they can't just pay lip service to the advancement of women could soon have a rude awakening, because the debate will no longer stop merely at legal quotas. Some may be confident that the labor minister will not be able to get her ambitious demands approved by the center-right coalition government. But they can't be sure that won't happen. ... It takes years to build up corporate leaders. For that reason, companies should develop targets for all management levels now."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

 "For Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, it was a black day. It was not the rigid supporter of gender quotas but rather her cabinet colleague Kristina Schröder who called the shots at the 'quota summit' yesterday. With her flexible quotas, the family minister had in recent weeks smoothed the way for German industry to finally act on fulfilling commitments which should have been met 10 years ago, to increase the proportion of women on supervisory and management boards. Yesterday, the personnel managers of the 30 DAX companies present showed that they were willing to take the first steps. This year they want to voluntarily give themselves a quota and make it publicly known."
 "With this, Schröder has moved a step closer to her goal of increasing the proportion of women on the management levels to 30 percent. Industry has changed its position. This is a considerable achievement, given the great resistance from companies and organizations that are still against agreeing on a quota at all."
 "But nonetheless it is only half the battle. Schröder wants a good reason to make not only the 30 DAX firms but all big companies move on the issue of women. She will be doing the right thing, therefore, if she sticks to her plans to make the flexible quotas legally enforceable later this year, despite the concessions made by industry."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

 "Von der Leyen cannot change her spots. Although the question of how large German companies could be encouraged to consider more women for executive positions lies in the brief of the family minister, the labor minister once again stole the show from her colleague Schröder on Wednesday."
 "Everyone understood the message that she put before the ministers' meeting with DAX companies: a gender quota of 30 percent, legally required, to be met by 2018 at the latest. Schröder, on the other hand, talked of a 'phased plan,' a 'mixture of persuasion and public pressure,' which may lead to a 'legal obligation' in 2013 if expectations are not met. With a malicious smile, von der Leyen assured her successor that 'Ms Schröder has my full support for an unbureaucratic law.' With that, she can only have meant her own proposal."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

 "The entire phased plan, which will in future increase the amount of women in senior positions and which is based on voluntary commitments, is as confused as it sounds: Firms should themselves regulate how many women they allow to the top. So one company may let two women get to the top; another perhaps only one — depending on what they feel like. Kristina Schröder calls it the 'flexi-quota.'"
 "Schröder's phased plan has certainly caused a stir already. But it is now clear that it will hardly help. It is not only confused and incomprehensible — it is also too vague and contains no sanctions. It is simply insipid."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

 "After Wednesday's meeting, one thing is now clear: No employer can afford to dismiss the issue of quotas for women with a mocking smile any longer. The issue has reached the top."
 "It is not because of a lack of good will if an employer is opposed to a fixed quota. Rather, it is the concern that in the future a less-qualified woman must be put in a post for which there is a better-qualified man. The fear is that the fortunes of the company will be put in the hands of people who are out of their depth. If that is the case, it would be disastrous indeed. It would not be to the benefit of industry and definitely not to the benefit of women — who would quickly acquire a reputation for being unsuitable for leadership positions."


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