The 30 corporations listed on Frankfurt's blue-chip DAX index announced the plans for this year at a meeting with government ministers on the dramatic lack of female executives in Europe's biggest economy.
"Women are under-represented on the staff of many companies, on executive boards, on supervisory boards as well as in top management positions," the firms said in a joint statement.
"The companies will set their own specific and differentiated targets for increasing the number of women on their staff and in leadership positions, define their own corporation-specific timeframes and regularly report on their goals, measures taken and achieved results."
German business is under pressure following recent calls from women's rights groups, the country's top-selling news magazine Der Spiegel and Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen for legally binding quotas for women in management.
Von der Leyen, who would like to see an average of 30 percent female representation on supervisory and executive boards among listed companies by 2018, lamented a lack of progress at Wednesday's meeting.
"I'm not seeing concrete statements, figures, strategies, timetables," she said. "We are at the start of a process— it has to have a target and an end."
The proportion of women on executive or supervisory boards at Germany's 200 biggest companies is currently at a dismal 3.2 percent, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) said in its latest study released in January.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the fact that voluntary targets introduced in 2001 for companies to boost their ranks of female executives had produced only "modest results."
While she has resisted calls for imposed quotas, she warned industry in February that if it failed to make headway, Berlin would intervene.
Family Minister Kristina Schröder, who called Wednesday's meeting, said if the companies did not triple the number of the female top executives by 2013, the government would step in by mandating them to set firm targets.