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Regional Spotlight

Spotlight on Germany

In Germany, your 18th birthday marks your coming of age and is often combined with a lavish party. Unfortunately, we can’t celebrate this particular 18th birthday as far as diversity in top German boards is concerned. The new edition of our global study has come out, 18 years after its first publication in 2004. And it clearly shows that progress is too slow, with sobering results.

Since 2004, Egon Zehnder has been collecting global data with its Global Board Diversity Tracker (GBDT) to measure diversity progress in terms of gender, age and internationality: 44 countries and almost 1,800 companies, 54 of them from Germany. Due to the governance system, which is unusual in a global context, figures are only partially comparable, but they are still revealing. How have German executive and supervisory boards developed since 2004? What are the particular successes and where are the challenges on the road to more diversity in German companies?

Egon Zehnder champions diversity and inclusion, firmly believing that inclusive leaders create an environment where individuals and organizations not only grow but thrive. Empirical research consistently proves that organizations deliver better performance when all people can simultaneously embrace their uniqueness and experience a true sense of belonging at all levels.

But if we look at boards around the world, you might ask yourself whether diversity is actually happening or is simply a topic for discussion in speeches and in the media. Yet diversity is more important than ever. An individual leader may be decisive, but it is much more important to have a top team that stands for resilience and relevance thanks to its diversity. This is the only way to meet the many challenges that companies are facing in ever shorter succession and with ever greater complexity. We live in a time that represents an unprecedented stress test for leaders and their teams. So, it’s surprising that change is so slow in Germany, especially in international comparison.

Below you will find the key insights for this spotlight on Germany.


Gender representation is lagging in Germany

On almost every metric of gender diversity, Western Europe shows higher proportions of women in the boardroom than the global average. However, Germany is one exception. It’s often one of the few – and sometimes the only – Western European country that scores below the global average on measures of gender diversity.

Germany has a unique two-tier board system as part of its corporate governance, with both a supervisory board and an executive board. The supervisory board is made up of shareholders and, when needed, employee representatives. This board establishes the dividend, votes on strategy changes, sets executive pay, and holds the power to fire executives. The executive board manages day-to-day operations, proposes strategy changes, and dividends to the supervisory board. On the whole, supervisory boards tend to have better female representation than executive boards in Germany, but there is a need for increased gender diversity across both.

Gender diversity on German boards has developed only slowly since the first GBDT study 18 years ago and has increasingly stagnated over time:

  • Over the entire period from 2004 to 2022, the proportion of women on German executive and supervisory boards increased by an average of about two to three percentage points annually.
  • While the share of female board members in Germany was 10 percent in 2004, above the Western European average of 8 percent at the time, it is now 30.8 percent, below the Western European average of 35.5 percent. In comparison: In France, the Western European leader, the proportion of women has increased from 6 percent in 2004 to a total of 45.3 percent in 2022.

Gender disparity is decreasing faster on supervisory boards than on boards of directors in Germany.

  • In most countries, the share of women on supervisory boards is significantly higher than on executive boards. In Germany, more than every third supervisory board mandate is held by a woman, but only every fifth board mandate. In Western Europe, the proportion of women on supervisory boards is significantly higher, at almost 40 percent.
  • Only two of the 56 CEO positions examined are held by a female chair of the board. This still puts Germany, together with countries such as Switzerland (2.9 percent), in one of the last places in an international comparison. At the same time, German companies have made progress in filling their finance portfolios. In 2022, the share of female CFOs is over 28 percent, 12 percentage points higher than the Western European average.

Percentage of companies with a female CEO

Global Average




Percentage of companies with a female CFO

Global average




Percentage of committee chair positions filled by women

Global average




Overall, the data for Germany shows that although there has been a shift toward having more women in the boardroom, the transition has been too slow. Germany’s position below the global average on many of these measures tells us that there is still a lot of work needed to make corporate culture more accessible for women.


The case for gender quotas

There has been much talk of the gender quota. A gender quota of 30 percent was introduced in 2016 for supervisory boards of listed, equally co-determined companies in Germany.

A quota for executive board positions, on the other hand, did not come into force until August 2021 with the Second Leadership Positions Act (Fü-PoG II). For affected companies, a minimum participation requirement of one woman applies if the executive board consists of more than three persons. If the personnel requirements are not met (i.e., if a position is nevertheless filled by a man instead of a woman) the position is considered legally vacant. In future, even stricter gender quotas will apply. It is significant that a change toward more diversity obviously won’t happen without a quota.

In order for a company to be diversified at the highest levels of management, it’s necessary to dismantle disadvantageous mechanisms. This includes, not least, long-term, systematic succession planning for top management roles. Once a high proportion of board members with diverse backgrounds has been achieved, they can act as role models and create perspectives for other, previously underrepresented candidates at all organizational levels.


Globally diverse

Diversity is not just about gender balance: In a globalized world, internationality within an organization and its management bodies is also an important entrepreneurial success factor. This is especially true for companies that do a large part of their business outside their home country.

Western Europe continues to lead the way in terms of internationality and is the only region to record a continuous, yet slow, upward trend.

  • Germany, with a share of 23.9 percent of international board directors, is below the Western European average of almost 39 percent.
  • However, the share of board and supervisory board members with a non-German nationality has doubled since 2006. In particular, the proportion of women without German citizenship has risen to almost one in four (25.8%).
  • 92.6 percent of the companies surveyed have at least one non-German member in their top management bodies. This is just above the Western European average of 90.2 percent and well above the global average of 73.1 percent. This is an improvement compared to 2008, when the share was 84.1 percent.

Even though German corporate boards are more diverse today than in the past, many organizations are slowly realizing that the most difficult step to bring this diversity to real fruition is to develop an inclusive culture. A diverse leadership team can contribute to creating such a culture, but the reverse is also true: An inclusive culture attracts diverse talent. This requires a holistic approach that aims to further develop the organization, its culture and — at its core — its leaders, with whom an inclusive culture stands or falls.

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