Women in Business: Surprise Backers Edge Germany Toward Gender Quota

The debate over a potential gender quota for women in top jobs has divided Germany's leading conservatives for months. But surprise support from two states led by the party is likely to push a legislative initiative for a binding quota through the upper legislative chamber on Friday. It's the only way to change the business world, says one governor.

Women are still struggling to reach the highest levels of business in Germany. Zoom
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Women are still struggling to reach the highest levels of business in Germany.

The German government has long been divided over whether the country needs a legal quota for women at the upper echelons of German businesses, but in a surprising development, advocates of such a mandate could soon get their way.

Enough support has emerged in the Bundesrat, or upper legislative chamber representing Germany's 16 federal states, that a majority will likely approve a binding gender quota initiative on Friday, the conservative daily Die Welt reports.

The legislative initiative, which would still need approval by Germany's lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, is largely supported by the opposition environmentalist Greens and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), and was proposed by the SPD-led city-state of Hamburg. It would require publicly traded companies to have at least 40 percent women on their supervisory boards.

The idea of a gender quota has been the source of ongoing strife within Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition, comprising her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). Indeed, they have yet to present a unified approach. While the FDP opposes a quota, members of Merkel's CDU have been divided over whether to support Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen's legally-binding version, or the voluntary commitment from companies, called a "flexi-quota," proposed by Family Minister Kristina Schröder.

But now it appears that two states led by the CDU will offer their tacit approval for a legal quota when the Bundesrat meets on Friday, potentially forcing the party itself to finally take a position. The governors from the CDU-led states of Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt have signalled they will join the city-state of Berlin, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in abstaining from the vote to force the issue through, Die Welt reports. This would, in turn, force a discussion within the CDU about whether it would support the initiative in a Bundestag vote.

EU Gender Quota in Question

"A legal quota ensures that work conditions will change in the workplace, for example, with a better balance for work and family through more flexible work schedules or strengthened training efforts," Saarland governor and CDU member Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the paper. It's the only way to put the necessary pressure on the business world to change, she added.

Independent of the initiative in Berlin, though, efforts to implement a gender quota at the European level continue.

"The last word is far from being uttered when it comes to the quota," Green party parliamentary group leader Renate Künast told the news agency DPA from Brussels. Political debate over the issue has sparked broad discussion among the general public, she said. "The quota will come -- specifically for boards of directors and executive boards," she said.

The European Commission plans to present a proposal in October to set a European Union-wide gender quota for its 27 member states, requiring publicly listed companies to fill 40 percent of their supervisory board positions with women by 2020. Failure to comply would result in sanctions including fines and the withdrawal of state subsidies.

But the European proposal, initiated by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, has encountered resistance from member states -- including Germany -- which could block it in the end.

kla -- with wire reports

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