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Do Germans need a gender quota?

Germany debates requiring a percentage of women on corporate boards.

“It doesn’t work without quotas because nothing changes,” said Margret Moenig-Raane, the deputy leader of the powerful services industry union ver.di and a member of the executive board of retail giant Arcandor. She points to Norway, which introduced a mandated 40 percent quota in 2003 and whose economy is doing nicely. France and Spain have passed similar laws and given businesses six years and four years, respectively, to comply.

As for the argument that quotas are a band-aid solution that would distract from the more fundamental work of ensuring women’s work was valued equally, this was a red herring, Moenig-Raane said.

“You can do one without giving up the other,” she said. “I’m not saying quotas alone will solve the world’s problems, rather I said that without quotas we will not lift the share of women at all leadership levels and therefore also the chance for women at a life of self-determination.”

Nor does the general public have much faith in companies to promote enough women voluntarily. A poll published in Handelsblatt found that 52 percent of Germans believed state intervention was needed, while 42 percent thought companies could manage by themselves to improve the representation of women on boards.

Some 71 percent said they believed the reason there are so few women in top jobs is that the leadership culture in German firms is simply too male-dominated.

Certainly the lingering reputation of business in Germany is one of a boys’ club. Though she says she hasn’t experienced that, Marie-Christine Ostermann acknowledges “some human resources managers need to show more boldness in giving well-trained women a chance.”

Nor are remarks such as those by Deutsche Bank’s Ackermann reassuring. They might, it seems, drive home the issue of male-domination even to sections of the political spectrum that wouldn’t normally back a mandated quota, such as the Free Democratic Party, the business-friendly coalition partners to Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

“If Mr. Ackermann wants more color on management boards, he should hang pictures on the wall,” said Silvana Koch-Mehrin, an FDP member of the European parliament. “Women in executive positions don’t see themselves as decorative objects and that certainly applies also to female managers at Deutsche Bank.”