Wanted: female bosses for Germany


Where are all the female executives? In Germany women make up just 3% of board members - a lower rate than any other major European country. Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is concerned about the men only culture. So apparently is Josef Ackerman, the chief executive of Deutsche Bank, although his support for women was somewhat undermined when he also suggested that their presence would make board meetings "prettier and more colourful".

Ines Kolmsee is head of chemical company, Stahl Metallurgie, and she's Germany's only female CEO of a publicly listed company. She also leads Generation CEO, an organisation which is pushing for more female representation in business.

Business Daily's Ed Butler asked her for her thoughts.

This interview was originally broadcast on 10th February. Full transcription below:

Ines Kolmsee: I think one part is definitely a sociological one. In Germany, the whole mother thing is like a cult almost. Women tend to say, 'well, why have kids if you can't take care of them?' And men tend to say, 'yes, I definitely want kids. I don't want to stay at home. But someone has to stay at home, so I want to look for a wife that does that.' And if you choose another model in a family, it is definitely very difficult in your personal environment as well. My husband is quite active in the family, so currently for example he is bearing most of the, let's say, family workload, and he gets a lot of pressure from his environment.

Ed Butler: Really. Does he get challenges effectively from his peers?

IK: That's exactly what's happening. So, we have this expression in Germany that 'someone has to wear the trousers at home', so everyone says it's me and he is the weaker one, which is complete rubbish. It is very hard for a man to live with a successful wife in Germany.

EB: How would you then recommend or hope to develop change in Germany in this society that you describe as being so stratified and effectively conservative when it comes to the development of girls and women in business?

IK: I think one part that is very important is that men have to change, and not so much in the way they treat women in the workplace, but more in the way they run their own personal lives. So if it is more normal that, for example, also a man goes home at 17:00 or 17:30 to pick up a child from kindergarten or from school or goes to a school play or whatever, it is a lot less hard for women to be in that family situation. I mean I am asked all the time how I manage to have a high powered job and a family. My husband is never asked that. No man is ever asked that. So I think we need to tackle that first.

EB: There are proposals, aren't there, within the government that the labour minister has talked about this of introducing some form of quota system, whereby a percentage of senior people employed will have to be women. What do you think of that?

IK: As an employer, I think it is not feasible. We are a very technical company and I think we have about 5 to 10% female engineering students, and so I wouldn't really know where to get the women from for especially technical positions, and most of our management positions are technical. It is a different thing in finance or in legal services, but in the very technical positions it is basically impossible.

EB: Are things changing for the better do you think?

IK: In general, I think the whole discussion about the quota, and the fact that CEOs of larger companies are starting to be scared a bit of some action the government might take, I think is changing things. I am not really sure about some of the comments made by some CEO colleagues of very large companies in Germany. The way they phrase it is probably not the smartest one, but I think that perceived pressure from the government might change something. I just think the discussion needs to go on.

EB: Why does it matter ultimately? I mean there will be those listening who think, 'well, look Germany has an incredibly successful economy. It is developing incredibly well the way that it works'. And maybe, part of that is having a very stable, stratified, organised society and economy. Why does it matter?

IK: I think that mixed teams, and I am not just talking about female-male mixed teams, but also age-wise, nationality-wise, are much more creative and less prone to, let's say, joint mistakes. Yeah? So if they are all from a similar background, I mean the typical white older male structure, I think the decisions taken are not necessarily the best. And if everything is stable, it is fine, but as soon as you are in a crisis situation or you need to be creative or go into new places, I think these teams don't perform as well as mixed teams.

For the full programme download the Business Daily podcast or listen again on iPlayer.

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