Women in the supervisory boards

This March the discussion of women in leading positions reached a new high as the German Telekom announced the implementation of a women’s quota as the first one of the 30 German DAX companies. Thanks to these news, and the excitement and discussion initiated by it, diversity management is of great interest again in Germany, especially the encouragement of (talented) women to improve their career opportunities by overcoming the glass ceiling and taking top-level management positions, e.g. in supervisory boards.

The claim for more women in supervisory boards, however, is not new (see e.g. FidAR – German abbreviation for “women in the supervisory boards”). There it is said that only 12% of supervisory board positions in big German companies are held by women and the general opinion is that this is not enough. In order to improve corporate governance and management control, groups such as FidAR (supported by the BMFSFJ – German ministry for family, elderly persons, women and adolescents) demand a women’s quota.

But is a women’s quota really what is needed and what women want? And what about the men?
And even more interesting questions to me are: Why are there only few women in top-level management positions today? What is keeping them from coming into leading positions? Is it really the so often mentioned glass ceiling? If yes, what makes it so impenetrable and what role do socially embossed role models play?

A very interesting study in this context was published by the BMFSFJ this August, “Women in leading positions – barriers and bridges”. It discusses whether the implementation of a women’s quota would lead to the desired outcomes or rather to a stigmatization of women. Therefore one part of the study focuses on the description of the mindset design of  men in leading positions as the keepers of the glass ceiling. Regarding to the findings of this study, the male leaders (above the glass ceiling) can be divided into three groups: conservative exclusion (rejection of women qua gender), emancipated attitude (but still women have no chance  against male power rituals) and radical individualism (lack of “authentic and flexible” women). The essence of the analysis of those three types is that women face a big challenge when trying to please men’s expectations because of the paradox that results out of those types. On the one hand women should accept the predominating culture in top-level management and simply adapt to it. On the other hand they should bring in and apply  their own female strengths.

So how are women supposed to suit the men’s conceptions?
This question will surely reoccur and possible answers as well as strategies will be discussed later on in this blog.

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Comments
11 Responses to “Women in the supervisory boards”
  1. Sneaky says:

    I agree. According to a recent publication of the socio-economic panel of the German Institute of Business Research (DIW) the rate of women in leadership positions increased from 22 to 27 per cent between 2001 and 2008. It shows that, despite major accomplishments in the past years, there is still a long way to go if we strive for a 40 per cent quota. However, in this context it also arouses the question as stated above: Why do we find so few women in leading positions and what keeps them from doing so?

    At the same time in America the female leadership issue isn’t an issue anymore. On the contrary, Reach Advisors recently found out that in some 300 top metropolitan areas the average single, childless woman under 30 earns a median 8% more than a comparable male counterpart (in Atlanta and Memphis even 20%). What does that indicate? America is more liberal on the one hand. But how come we need to specify so scrupulous to “SINGLE”, “CHILDLESS”, “UNDER 30”? It is a matter of fact that women with family ambitions need to find a compromise at one point. Kids or Career, is that the question or will the female leaders of tomorrow prove that there is a third category?

  2. diiasg says:

    Very interesting to read that the German Telekom decided to be on the forefront of this change towards equality on company boards. I found a report from the SEEurope Network containing statistics of all the major European countries and their percentage of women on supervisory boards. It went further to compare these to the North American region. I would have guessed that the U.S. has a much lower percentage of women in these positions than the 12% that Germany has. However, in this report, Sandra Schwimbersky reports that in the United States:

    “13.6% of board members are women in the US and 11.2% in Canada, compared with 8% in Europe. Only 10.8% of US companies – but an unexpectedly high 51.4% of Canadian companies – do not have women on their boards, compared with 44% in Europe. In comparison to US companies, it is clear that European companies have a lot of catching up to do.”

    This information really surprised me, however it may be that this numbers are a bit higher due to the difference in population and size, yet even having taken that into account I find there to be a dramatic difference.

    http://www.seeurope-network.org/homepages/seeurope/file_uploads/womenonboards.pdf

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