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All aboard the Euro-express? Germany pushes forward on equal opportunities issues?

Why do equality issues continue to attract headlines? Because, unfortunately, women are still unrepresented at the highest levels of management tiers within organisations.

Despite a plethora of edicts, orders, policies and procedures at macro and micro-level the problem still persists. However, there are now serious noises within Germany that this problem must be addressed.

The development comes as a surprise as in July of this year Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, joined with Britain in voting against the European Commission’s proposal for a compulsory boardroom quota for women. This may have something to do with a desire to keep the Commission at bay in certain areas. However, in a positive mood for change, new proposals have brought about the ‘Frauenquota.’

So, how will it work? As of 2016, companies registered on the German stock exchange will be required to have at least 30% women on their supervisory boards. In addition, large firms will have to define and make public their plans for moving more women into top executive roles.

Manuela Schwesig, who led talks for the Social Democrats on the introduction of the Frauenquota described the agreement as, “an important signal to improve the chances of women in the workplace.” Others have described the new quota as a ‘no-brainer’, but what do German employers make of it?

The Guardian newspaper reported that senior figures in one of Germany’s key sectors, the car industry, have reacted with distrust, threatening to move production out of Germany if the quota is forced upon them. This could be bluster or just pure mis-guided analysis. Outside of this sector other employers have welcomed the move but made the valid point that change needs to emanate through all levels, not just the board room for a real business change.

But what about the UK? Germany is already well ahead of Britain in terms of female representation on boards. Nearly 12% of executive board positions are held by women in Germany, compared with just 6% in the UK. Given the controversy surrounding the Frauenquota can we expect similar reactions from employers in the UK? One comment by Wolfgang Schmitz of the German employers’ association said that “….it should be up to the state, not businesses, to create the right conditions. Instead of wading in with statutory requirements, the government should concentrate on improving infrastructures: more nursery places and all-day schools. We need chances, not quotas.”

So will our government follow this view and look to support those females aiming high? Labour has already demonstrated moves towards encouraging employers to introduce initiatives to entice mothers back to work, with recent discussions around additional support with childcare costs and extending the concept of flexible working. However, is this enough?

Employers should perhaps be thankful that we are not following the robust Norwegian model. Norwegian companies can be liquidated if they fail to reach the target quota of 40%. With more egalitarian educational structures and a heavy emphasis on the work-life balance once again the Nordics tackle the big mountains with power and precision.

 

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further