Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann has provoked shrieks of outrage with his contribution to the current debate about a mandatory minimum quota for the proportion of women in German boardrooms.
He told a news conference last Thursday that he hoped there would be more women in top management posts at Deutsche Bank at some point -- "and that it will be more colorful then -- and prettier too."
The comment has been heavily criticized. German Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner told business daily Handelsblatt on Monday: "People who like things more colorful and prettier should go into a field of flowers or to the museum." She added that she wished Ackermann was as ambitious about promoting women to top positions as he was in his profit forecasts.
Deutsche Bank has no women on its management board or in its group executive committee, the management level below that. But five of its 20 supervisory board members are women.
Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a member of the European Parliament for the pro-business Free Democratic Party, told the paper: "If Mr Ackermann wants more color in the management board, he should hang pictures on the wall. Women in leadership positions don't see themselves as objects of decoration, and that certainly also applies to the female managers at Deutsche Bank."
Katja Suding, the FDP's top candidate in Hamburg in a state election there this month, said: "Regarding women in professional life as colorful decorations is an embarrassing faux pas. Many women have been able to get ahead on merit."
As it happens, many of the press reports about Suding's own candidacy have focused more on her looks than on her platform or policies. The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung wrote: "If the Hamburg branch of the FDP vaults the 5 percent threshold, it will only be thanks to Katja Suding and her pretty eyes."
An article about Suding that appeared in the regional newspaper Sächsische Zeitung on Tuesday had the headline: "The Prettiest Face of Liberalism." It led with the sentence: "The Hamburg FDP has a young, pretty leading candidate. Many even think she is the only reason why the party is gaining in opinion polls."
Chancellor Angela Merkel last week quashed a proposal by Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen that a mandatory gender quota be introduced requiring German listed companies to have at least 30 percent of their management and supervisory boards made up of women.
Her spokesman Steffen Seibert said: "There will be no mandatory quota." Merkel wanted to give companies more time to live up to their past pledges to increase the number of women executives voluntarily, he said. The government plans to hold talks with leading companies on the subject in March.
On Tuesday, Merkel and Family Minister Kristina Schröder met business and trade union leaders to encourage them to introduce more "family friendly" working conditions, such as more flexible working hours for executives. That has been identified as one of the obstacles to women getting ahead in business.