In 2015, the "Act on the Equal Participation of Women and Men in Leadership Positions in the Private and Public Sectors (FüPoG)" introduced a "quota" in Germany: The law demands a mandatory gender quota of 30% for the supervisory boards of publicly traded and co-determined companies. In August 2021, the Second Leadership Positions Act came into effect. It includes binding requirements for business and the public sector, including for executive boards. Although there is much discussion and criticism about the quota, it seems to have had an impact.

The proportion of women on Germany's executive boards is 15.5%.
Finally, there have never been as many women as now in the executive boards of Germany's top corporations: The proportion of female managers in the executive suites of DAX, MDAX, and SDAX companies has once again increased in the past year and currently stands at 15.5% – 2.3 percentage points higher than a year ago, and even more than double compared to four years ago (7.9%). In absolute numbers: 109 of the total 705 board members are women. As of January 1, 2023, this is 17 more than the year before.

Smaller companies have fewer women on their executive boards.
However, this still means that for every top female manager, there are still five male colleagues. When looking at the CEO level, the discrepancy becomes even more evident: Out of 160 leadership positions, nine are occupied by female managers. Many executive boards of German corporations continue to be predominantly a male domain.

It is particularly noteworthy that companies in the DAX are taking a leading role when it comes to diversity. The proportion of women here is significantly higher at 21.2% compared to the corporations in the SDAX (12.4%) and MDAX (12%). This is also due to the fact that women are increasingly being appointed to newly vacated executive board positions, especially in the DAX: Last year, 22 new executives were appointed in the DAX – eleven of them were women.

These figures are the results of an analysis of the structure of the executive boards of the 160 companies listed in the DAX, MDAX, and SDAX, conducted biannually by the auditing and consulting firm EY.

Progress could be happening faster.
Markus Heinen, Head of People Advisory Services at EY, comments on this: "Something is happening in the executive boards, more and more top female managers are making it into the top committees of Germany's publicly traded companies. This is extremely important for diversity and ultimately for the successful operation of the corporations. Yet, the development continues to be very slow, and despite all the positives, there's the impression that progress could and should be happening faster. Currently, in the executive boards, one woman is facing seven men. There are enough female managers who can assert themselves in leadership positions."

DAX corporations are driving change most strongly.
This is most commonly recognized in DAX companies: The corporations in Germany's top index apparently pay more attention to gender balance when filling new executive board positions than do corporations in the other two indices. Thus, 50% of the newly appointed executive board members in the DAX were female. In the MDAX, the proportion of women in new appointments was 35%, and in the SDAX only 30%.

Now, across all indices, every second company (51.9%) has at least one woman on its executive board – a year ago, this figure was 46.5%. Here too, there are clear differences between the indices: In the DAX, nearly nine out of ten corporations (85%) have at least one female board member, while in the SDAX (43%) and MDAX (38%), it's just under four out of ten companies.

A challenge that female managers often face on their way to the top is traditional gender roles that are no longer contemporary. "Here, we as a society as a whole need to question ourselves," says Heinen, "because it's not just about opening up better career opportunities for women. It's also about men being more willing to take care of the household and family and possibly even putting their own career on hold in favor of the woman's career. This still happens very rarely."

In the consumer goods, telecommunications, and real estate industries, the proportion of women is the highest.
The proportion of female board members in the consumer goods industry is above average: Here, almost one in four board members (24%) is a woman. The proportion of female managers on the board is also high in companies that do business in the telecommunications (21%) and property (21%) sectors. By contrast, media companies (8%), energy suppliers (9%) and IT groups (11%) have the lowest proportions of female board members. Almost one in three female board members (32%) performs operational functions, while one in four female managers (25%) is responsible for human resources. The role of CFO is held by one in five women (20%).

According to Heinen, whether female managers make it into management positions and are appointed to corporate boards is very often still a question of culture. How difficult it is to reach the top varies from company to company: "Balancing family and private life on the one hand and career advancement on the other is still often more difficult for women than for men. And even though traditional roles have changed considerably in recent years, female employees are still more dependent on flexible working hours than their male colleagues."

Profilbild von Anke Dembowski

Anke Dembowski

Anke Dembowski is a financial journalist and author of various investment fund-related and other financial books. She is also a co-founder of the "Fondsfrauen" network.

Corporate Partners