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Germany to order large companies to include women on executive boards

German listed companies must include women on their executive boards as part of a landmark bill agreed by the country's coalition government Wednesday after voluntary efforts failed to close a gender gap.

Germany to order large companies to include women on executive boards
Belen Garijo, set to take over as Merck's CEO in May. Photo: DPA

Listed companies with four executives or more must appoint at least one woman to their boards, according to a draft law to be voted on by parliament.

The law sends “a very strong signal”, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said, urging corporations to “take advantage of the opportunity presented by highly qualified women”.

The law sends “a very strong signal”, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told reporters, urging corporations to “take advantage of the opportunity presented by highly qualified women”.

READ ALSO: How much do women in Germany earn compared to men?

“We can show that Germany is on the way to becoming a modern society fit for the future,” Family Affairs Minister Franziska Giffey said.

One step closer

With the new legislation, Germany is “one step closer” to the goal of equal opportunities and equal rights, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said.

The women's quota is “overdue” and the time for voluntary measures is
“finally over”, he added.

Europe's largest economy fares relatively poorly in terms of representation of women in senior positions, particularly striking in a country led by the world's longest-serving elected female leader.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, in power since 2005, has spoken out at
foot-dragging by business leaders, against the resistance of some in her own conservative bloc.

The boss of her CDU party's economic council, Astrid Hamker, last year
called the idea of a quota system “completely counterproductive”, and said diversity should be “not according to gender, but rather competence”.

Yet evidence suggests companies with women at the top outperform the
average of Germany's blue-chip DAX companies by more than two percent, according to a report by the management firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Included in the new legislation, companies in which the government holds a majority stake — such as the rail group Deutsche Bahn — will have stricter rules, with at least one woman on management boards with more than two members, and a 30-percent quota to come in the future.

'Snail's pace'

German research institute DIW said it welcomed the women's quota but noted that female participation in management boards continues to move at a “snail's pace”.

The new regulations cover around 70 companies, of which about 30 have no women on their boards.

They would raise Germany to 18th from 24th place by 2022 in representation on company boards among EU nations, the BCG said.

Just 12.8 percent of management board members at Germany's 30 largest listed companies are women, according to the AllBright Foundation, which works to promote boardroom diversity.

By comparison, women account for 28.6 percent of top roles in the United States, 24.5 percent in Britain and 22.2 percent in France, AllBright said.

Female representation has fallen in Germany during the coronavirus
pandemic, with 11 DAX companies still led by all-male board executives,
AllBright said in October.

Women also earn an average 20 percent less than men in Germany, compared with 14 percent less across the European Union.

No DAX company is currently led by a woman, although pharmaceutical firm Merck is set to break the glass ceiling when Belen Garijo takes over in May.

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WOMEN

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)

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