An all-male management team is not the exception in German companies, but the norm. In order to change that, the German-Swedish AllBright Foundation regularly produces reports in which it examines the state of equality and diversity in German management levels.

The foundation has now examined the 100 largest family businesses. The proportion of women on their management boards is therefore 12.6 percent.

Since the last study in 2022, the proportion has increased by a good four percentage points. So something is happening in family businesses. “The end of the Sleeping Beauty sleep” is what the managing directors of the AllBright Foundation, Wiebke Ankersen and Christian Berg, call it in their report published on Tuesday entitled: “Generation change as an opportunity”.

They see the age-related withdrawal of some patriarchs as an opportunity for women. “In families, it is often the same people who strategically set the tone for an entire generation,” it says. In listed companies, however, the change usually takes place more quickly.

Family businesses lag significantly behind listed corporations. The proportion of women on the boards of the 160 companies that are listed in the three most important indices of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange – the large ones in the DAX, the medium-sized ones in the MDAX and the smaller ones in the SDAX – is now 19 percent.

Of the 100 largest family businesses, 20 are listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the families each hold a significant share of the shares. These include the car manufacturer BMW, the car supplier Continental, the consumer goods and adhesives manufacturer Henkel and the chemical and pharmaceutical company Merck.

The proportion of women on the boards of listed family businesses is 19.6 percent, which is the average for all stock corporations. In family businesses that are not listed on the stock exchange, the proportion of women in management is only half as high (10.6 percent). “The more private the company, the more male the leadership,” says the foundation’s report.

Things are even more traditional when you look at the families that own the companies. Only in every third company examined (34 percent) do members of the owning families play an active role in management. But when that is the case, it is overwhelmingly men. The majority of women take care of company foundations, be it for charitable purposes or to promote art and culture.

Regardless of whether they are employed managers or someone from the family of the shareholders: of the 100 family businesses examined, almost half (47) had at least one woman on the management board. The pharmaceutical company B. Braun Nachrichten and the motor tool manufacturer Stihl even had three women on the board.

Conversely, this means: a little more than half of the companies (53 percent) do not have a single woman in their management team. This includes the Schwarz Group, which operates, among other things, supermarket chains Lidl and Kaufland.

On its website, the group, which employs almost 600,000 people, emphasizes that 41.7 percent of management positions are held by women. But where the really important decisions are made – on the nine-member board – there is not a single woman.

When asked by DW about the reasons, a spokeswoman for the company wrote: “For years, numerous women have worked for us in management, management and on the board.” She was probably referring to the various companies in the Schwarz Group. The spokeswoman did not comment on the reasons for the group board being made up exclusively of men.

The Fressnapf Group, which claims to be “Europe’s number one in pet supplies”, is significantly smaller with 18,000 employees. But in her ten-person management board it looks like Schwarz: not a single woman.

When asked by DW, a company spokesman asked for patience. “We are in a long-term transformation process,” the spokesman said via email. There are “internal programs to promote equal opportunities”, but people are aware that the “target image” has not yet been achieved “in all areas and at all levels”.

The Hamburg trading group Otto Group is already further along. Previously there was one woman on the six-member board. Two more will be added in spring 2025: Petra Scharner-Wolff as CEO and Katy Roewer as CFO.

Author: Andreas Becker

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The original for this article “Men’s business management” comes from Deutsche Welle.