“I am giving businesses one more year to take care of this themselves,” Barley told the media group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.
“If nothing is done by then, we will take action with legislation.”
Barley, whose Social Democratic Party (SPD) is campaigning for a more socially just Germany ahead of a September general election, lamented the fact that women took up just six percent of management board seats.
“This can't continue,” she said, noting that decades of urging industry to put more women in high-ranking positions had achieved very little.
“I would have no problem with a mandatory quota for women on management boards,” she said.
Germany last year already introduced a “women's quota” that requires around 100 listed firms to fill at least 30 percent of their non-executive supervisory board seats with female employees.
But the participation of women in management boards, the circle closest to the chief executive, remains low.
The economic think tank DIW has calculated that women take up just 6.5 percent of executive positions in Germany's 106 largest firms.
Barley was due to present a progress report on the corporate gender imbalance to Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet later on Wednesday.
The Social Democrats, the junior partner in the coalition government, are trailing Merkel's conservatives in the polls by a double-digit margin ahead of the September 24th vote.