According to the study, only 42 of the 1,721 executive committee members at Germany's top 600 listed companies are women. This corresponds to just 2.4 percent. The study also found that just 8.2 percent of those sitting on Boards of Directors were female.
“Our results really surprised us. We expected a low level of women in these top positions, but had been unsure of the degree of gender difference,” the project's academic leader, Professor Lindstädt, from KIT, told The Local.
The study, conducted in cooperation with the federal “New Quality of Work” initiative and the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is the most extensive of its kind and covered all of the most important listed companies in Germany.
Researchers have tracked development since 1998, when just 1.2 percent of women sat on Executive Committees for the companies monitored. Despite the overall increase, a steady trend of more women in such positions did not emerge from the study.
Indeed, it found that since 2005 the proportion of women on these committees has in fact been falling.
“Even more shocking than the low proportion was the fact that, over the last ten years, significant change has not been made,” Professor Lindstädt added.
“Many more businesses should be forced to publicise the proportion of women in their top three positions as part of their Corporate Governance Reports. That way we can gain more transparency on this important point,” he said.
International discussion of the proportion of women in top corporate positions has increased with the introduction of Norway's mandatory quotas for Public Limited Companies, requiring them to elect boards with a minimum of 40 percent from each sex.
Germany has long been reported to hold a low place on the European scale of women holding board seats, just above Italy and Portugal, and far behind Norway.
“But it is difficult to make a direct international comparison,” Professor Lindstädt told The Local. The researchers have expressed interest now in looking at the reasons behind Germany's low proportion of female board members in the international context.
“In Scandinavia in particular, and indeed the US, they have significantly more women on their executive committees than Germany. Perhaps one reason for this might be the fact that women who are successful in these economies face less social criticism than German women, who confront, for example, accusations that they are abandoning their maternal duty,” he said.