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"Parity not only in external appointments, but also in internal promotions": Allbright Managing Director Wiebke Ankersen is concerned about diversity in Germany's boardrooms

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When it comes to the question of how to increase the proportion of women at management levels in German companies, there is good news and bad news, according to Wiebke Ankersen. The good news first: "Many companies have now realized that they need to increase the proportion of women," says the managing director of the german-Swedish Allbright Foundation, which specializes in this topic. "An all-male board of directors is no longer well received today. That's why no company wants that anymore."

The bad news, however, is that because many companies have failed for years to promote and prepare suitable female executives for higher positions, they now lack the internal candidates to fill appropriate positions. "As a result, many companies are turning specifically to headhunters to appoint female executives," says Ankersen. This is not only expensive for individual companies. Overall, this approach also slows down the development towards more equality. As a result, the total number of female managers in Germany would continue to rise too slowly. "The women then move from one company to another and it creates a kind of 'left-pocket-right-pocket-problem'."

Ankersen can back up her observations with figures. As every year, the Allbright Foundation has once again analysed the changes in the boards of directors of German companies, with a special focus on the aspect of diversity and the question of how the proportion of women in management positions is developing.

The result: headhunters are playing an increasingly important role in increasing the proportion of women in company management. Five years ago, the proportion of women among the board members in the DAX, MDax and SDax companies placed by HR professionals was 14 percent, but it has now risen to 46 percent, according to the latest report published by the Allbright Foundation today, Wednesday. According to the study, 63 percent of today's female board members in the three stock indices did not make a career in their own company, but were recruited from outside – in most cases mediated by companies that earn their money with them, vulgo: headhunters.

Also noteworthy: In their search for female executives, HR consultants often find what they are looking for abroad in their search for female executives. According to the Allbright Foundation, around half of the externally recruited female board members had previously made a career in a foreign company. For men, this proportion was only 36 percent. On the other hand, almost one in five female board members found the headhunters in one of the 40 large DAX companies below the board of directors – among men it was 9 percent.

Managing Director Ankersen takes a critical view of this development. "Companies are trying to compensate for their long-standing deficits in the promotion of women through the use of recruitment consultancies," she says. "But that can only be part of the solution. If we want to see significantly more women on boards, we need parity not only in external appointments, but also in internal promotions up to company management."

This is only possible if companies "systematically build up a much larger pool of female executives at all levels," Ankersen said. "There's no way around it."

A weakness in filling management positions with women from outside also seems to be becoming clear these days: A number of prominent examples suggest that employment relationships tend to end particularly quickly. For example, at the Hamburg port operator HHLA, Chief Financial Officer Tanja Dreilich is leaving the company after just six months. At the dialysis company FMC, Carla Kriwet held the seat of CEO for only two months last year. In March, manager magazin also reported the imminent end of Sabine Bendiek as Chief Human Resources Officer and COO of SAP . The woman, who was considered a central figure for the transformation, had only joined the software company in January 2021. The list could easily be extended. "Women who are new to a management board have to prove themselves there more than men in a comparable situation," says Ankersen. "They're always in the spotlight."

However, the expert points out that the perception could be deceptive: In the medium term, it is not statistically possible to prove that more women leave their positions after a comparatively short time than men. It also does not matter whether the members of the board of directors had previously made a career in the company in question or had come from outside.

However, the increasing employment of headhunters such as Egon Zehnder, Heidrick & Struggles, Korn Ferry, Russell Reynolds Associates or Spencer Stuart in the recruitment of female executives also has a positive effect: The personnel consultants themselves have to expand their competence and networking in this field – and therefore, according to the Allbright Foundation, they are currently hiring more women as consultants.