Germany Debates gender quotas for corporate boards

Germany is debating a minimum 20% female requirement for corporate boards.

Conservatives are officially against passing a fixed gender quota for women on company supervisory boards, reports But a number of party members reject this position, chief among them Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen. The rebellion is straining not only coalition solidarity, but also the minister’s credibility.

“The issue was delicate. So delicate, in fact, that conservative parliamentary group chairman Volker Kauder didn’t want to bring it up in the chancellor’s weekly breakfast with her closest party allies. Normally, the ministers from Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), can discuss anything at the Wednesday morning meeting. But this time, Kauder chose to discreetly take her aside.

“He made it clear that he expects her to adhere to the party position later this week in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, and vote against a draft law that would implement a gender quota for women on executive boards. It would be unacceptable for such an important minister within the government coalition to show disloyalty, Kauder hissed.

“While von der Leyen’s reaction to this lecture remains unclear, one thing is certain: All is not well in Merkel’s center-right coalition ahead of Thursday’s vote, when parliamentarians will decide whether to approve the draft law put forward by the city-state of Hamburg, led by the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). It aims to implement a fixed quota of 20 percent for women on the supervisory boards of stock exchange-listed companies by 2018.

“At first glance, the issue is purely symbolic, ultimately affecting the careers of just a few hundred women, who the law would help usher into the top levels of German companies. Much more is at stake, however, thanks to a number of parliamentarians from both Merkel’s conservatives and her junior coalition party, the Free Democratic Union (FDP), who are considering voting in favor of the measure. The vote has now suddenly also become about coalition solidarity, particularly after its leaders promised not to approve a legally binding gender quota. It is also about von der Leyen’s credibility as a minister who has styled herself as a potential successor to Merkel someday.

“That’s because the possibility of a majority vote depends mostly on her. Like von der Leyen, many women within the coalition support a legally binding gender quota, and last year some 20 politicians from both the CDU and FDP signed on to the “Berlin Declaration,” which demands that at least 30 percent of supervisory boards be female. But it’s one thing to support something in theory, and another to vote out of conviction when it counts, which is the reason Kauder spoke so urgently with von der Leyen who, as the most prominent minister in Merkel’s cabinet, could turn the tide.”


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