“Quota Woman” – New Boardrooms Gender Rules

  • Do You Want to Be a “Quota Woman”?
  • What newgender quota rules in German boardrooms really mean.
  • One businesswoman speaks up.


On Friday, March 6, 2015, Germany passed a law that makes it mandatory to employ at least 30% of women in the supervisory boards of the hundred biggest companies in Germany. By 2016, these companies will have to change the members of their boards accordingly. 3.500 further companies have to submit binding plans how to increase the quota of women on their boards even earlier, by September 30, 2015.

It’s just a small step in the right direction, but in spite of that, in the months before, discussions about this issue were heated.

Most often, women were asked “Do you really want to be a ‘quota woman’?” The implication was clear: Don’t you prefer to make it on merit alone, instead of just being called on the board because you happen to be female?

Speaking for myself, I can only say that my instinctive reply is “no”. Of course I want to make a career based on merit, and merit only. But that’s where the theory stops. Let’s look at it from both ends – top down and bottom up.

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Starting at the top: How often have you had a boss who was singularly unsuited for his tasks? How often have you wondered who on earth promoted him and how he got to such a position of rank and influence? How often have you seen politics at work and had to see people being promoted to important positions even if others were much better suited?

We’ve all experienced that – unless we’re still in university and full of ideals. If you explore a bit further, you’ll often find out that it’s a mix of connections – the old boy’s network – and lucky circumstances.

2652995348_ea84535526_b   In the photo: Businessman in Luchon, September 1897 – Fonds Trutat

As a rule, women don’t have such a network, hence they are not pulled into key positions. Being on a board means power, and it means money. These are highly coveted positions. To be chosen, women have to be especially good . It means that they have to be significantly better than any other male who applies.

This does not mean that the men at the top are all doing a bad job. Not at all. As a rule, what happens is this: if you have a man and a woman with the same qualifications, then the man will be chosen. This is why this new law will make a change; a badly-needed change.

Looking at it from the bottom up, we see the following facts:

Of 80 million Germans, 39 are men and 41 women (2013). In the same year, some 55% of those who finished High School with the Abitur were women. (The Abitur is the qualification you need to access university). Business studies are the most popular studies in Germany, for both men and women. Until that point, women are ahead.

But when you look at the situation at work, things change. Women in Germany earn roughly 20% less than men. In a survey from July 2014, only 25% of all the members on the boards of DAX-listed companies were female; and this in spite of the fact that a study by McKinsey and Accenture has provided ample evidence that companies with mixed genders are more profitable than those who are basically male.

So what happens in the years after university?

Do the women all drop out to stay at home and raise the kids? Hardly. On average, German women have 1,4 children (2013). It is a fact that the child care system is very badly developed in Germany; neighbors in the Scandinavian countries and in France are way ahead in this area. But these 1.4 children shouldn’t cripple German women’s careers to such an extent.

Don’t women want these positions? Some people, in all seriousness, provocatively present this as the right answer. Is being on the Board of Directors such a hardship that you prefer to be on two levels below with less recognition and less rewards but the same amount of work? No. A thousand times no.

So, yes, many career women (including me) were in favor of the law. And quite a few would have liked to see the quota set at 50%, but at least, it can be considered a beginning. A crack in the glass ceiling. It will break up some networks and will hopefully move women into positions where they themselves can reach out and pull other women into the positions where there’s power.

Looking at all these facts, if you ask me now, “Do you want to be a ‘quota woman’?, I have to answer, “Yes. That’s not a problem for me at all. Because the others who are already sitting in that exclusive circle are not there by merit only. Why should I be different?”

In the cover photo: Marissa Mayer, current CEO of Yahoo (Davos 2014)

About the Author /

Beate Boeker is the global marketing manager for the category Fine Writing Instruments at the company Pelikan in Germany. She has more than twenty years of experience in branded consumer goods marketing, speaks German, English, French, and Italian, and is used to working with different cultures on a daily basis. In her free time, she writes mystery and romance novels. You can learn more about that part by following the links provided.


  • Claude Forthomme (Nougat)

    March 15, 2015

    Great article, Beate, well said and it’s good to hear the point of view of someone like you, who’s both a successful career woman and a best-selling author. I would just like to add a little information of what it’s like to be a woman working at the United Nations – an employer that famously treats men and women alike, same salary level, same perks. So you’d expect women to flock to the UN in droves. But that’s not the case! Throughout my career at the UN (25 years at FAO), women were noticeably scarce at the higher management levels.

    In fact, delegates from member countries always asked about how women were progressing, forcing the Director General to regularly provide statistics about gender distribution. Dismal! In FAO, less than 15% of the professional staff were women (of course, in General Service positions that cover jobs like secretaries etc, most were women). At higher levels, the percentage was half, hovering around 8% and the higher you moved through the hierarchy, the worse it got. Over the years, the percentage improved slightly but the distance between men and women remained huge. I hear that it is getting better now (though I’d need to check that out!). Still, it sounds like a quota would be required at the UN too!

    I’m saying this to show how important it is to make oneself heard on a subject like this one, that is too often shrugged off or swept under the rug. Well done, Beate!

  • Beate Boeker

    March 15, 2015

    Thank you for allowing me to post, Impacter, on this important topic! Yes, Claude you are right: We still have a lot of work to do …

  • Helga Murauer

    March 17, 2015

    Great article, Beate. I agree 100%, quotas are essential to bring a real change about. At EU level women earn still 16% less than men with considerable differences from one country to another. In my region (Tyrol) the difference is approx. 25%. Not to speak of the differences in pensions, as child care and caring for elderly relatives are often not taken into account. As you say, there is still a lot of work to do.

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