EWL News

Women on Boards - 2nd Progress Report - Country in Focus GERMANY

What is this report about?

As part of the European Women’s Lobby’s Beijing+20 focus month on ‘Women in Decision-Making’, February sees the launch of the EWL’s latest report on women on boards, entitled ‘Women on Boards in Europe: Second Progress Report. Cracks in the glass ceiling or just a trick of the light?’
This Second Progress Report is part of the EWL’s ongoing work to ensure that parity at all levels of decision-making becomes reality. It tracks developments, progress, and stagnation regarding women on company boards in 11 European countries, including Germany, since the EWL’s first Progress Report on Women on Boards in 2012 – which was awarded the European Public Affairs Award for Report of the Year 2012.

What’s happening in Europe regarding women on boards?

Since the 2012 report, and ongoing campaigning in favour of binding legislation regarding gender parity on company boards across the EU, an EU Directive which aims to attain a 40% gender balance on non-executive boards in large, publicly listed companies across the EU has been proposed and is currently under consideration by the Council. Commissioner for Gender Equality Věra Jourová has committed to seeing the Directive passed within 2015.
We therefore find ourselves at a key moment to reflect on the developments in this area since 2012 across Europe and to learn from this reflection and analysis in order to best inform current and future policy-making in this area.

What has Germany done to crack the glass ceiling since 2012?

Positive steps

  • Germany has made significant progress in terms of female representation at board level since the 2012 EWL report – above the EU-28 average
  • Germany is in the process of passing legal measures which will bind listed companies which have employee representation on their supervisory (non-executive) boards to appoint 30% of seats on these boards to women. This will be introduced gradually from 2016 as new board positions become available, and the seats reserved for women are to remain empty unless and until they are filled by women
  • Further, more companies which are either listed or have employee representation on their supervisory boards will be required to set themselves targets to increase the proportion of women on executive and supervisory boards as well as in top management positions


  • The new legal requirements are weak and will barely make a dent in the business landscape – they will only affect around 100 German companies and only discuss supervisory board positions - where it is already the female employee representatives who boost the proportion of women in the boardroom
  • In contrast, around 3500 companies will be subject to self-regulation plans, where no sanctions are foreseen for not meeting targets that the companies have set themselves
  • The quota of 30% is low compared to other European legal requirements and will certainly not lead to parity on boards by itself

EWL Member Statement

‘The National Council of German Women’s Organisations (NCGWO) welcomes the draft bill on the equal participation of women and men in leading positions in the corporate sector and in public service as a long overdue step forward. However, the NCGWO sees the proposed 30% target for women on supervisory boards as insufficient. Limiting the law to listed companies which have employee representation on their supervisory boards will not have a broad impact and will not fundamentally challenge the lack of women’s representation in decision-making positions. In addition to this, the NCGWO demands that legal regulations should apply to all companies and not for only a tiny minority, and they should apply to all decision-making levels.’

Brigitte Triems, National Council of German Women’s Organisations (NCGWO), Germany

The way forward

The report makes five evidence-based recommendations, which should be taken into account as the future policy landscape regarding women in decision-making at the EU level and the national level is determined:

  1. Binding measures must apply to both executive and non-executive boards
  2. Further action is needed to increase proportion of female CEOs
  3. Effective measures require regular monitoring and intermediary targets
  4. Measures must be enforced with firm sanctions
  5. Quotas must be introduced as part of a comprehensive policy package that seeks to address the fundamental causes of women’s underrepresentation in economic decision-making

Gender parity in positions of economic power is of vital importance when it comes to justice, democracy and sustainable growth. Diverse decision-makers and leaders better represent, better understand, and better respond to the desires and needs of women and men in their diversity – and will be more open to cultivating a new style of leadership which will lead to much-needed transformative social change. As an important step forward towards a progressive, sustainable and inclusive Europe, the European Women’s Lobby demands the adoption and implementation of the current proposed EU Directive on women on boards without further delay. Moreover, we strongly encourage member states to go above and beyond its requirements and to implement stronger measures to achieve gender parity at all levels of decision-making.

Latest video

EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

Facebook Feed

Get Involved