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Article - Women in Business

Strong women make a strong economy.


Women create jobs and ensure Germany remains an innovative and dynamic location for business and investment: They work as (start-up) entrepreneurs, scientists, managers and skilled experts. Nevertheless, women are still clearly underrepresented in senior management positions. On average, they also receive a lower salary and set up fewer companies than men.

Without women’s contribution to Germany’s economy, Germany would not be a globally leading location for business. In their roles as entrepreneurs, they create new products and services and, as decision-makers, contribute to the future of our country. Women make up about half of the population and 46.5 per cent of the working population - and are highly skilled professionals: they account for more than half of school leavers, for around 50 per cent of university graduates and for 45 per cent of doctoral students.

Nevertheless, it is still primarily men who work in management positions: 74 per cent of the C4 professorships are filled by men and of the 185 supervisory boards of companies listed in the DAX, MDAX, SDAX and TecDAX as well as of the 25 companies where employees are represented at board-level, only six have a chairwoman. The so-called wage gap also continues to be an everyday occurrence in German companies, with around 6 per cent of women across all sectors earning less than men. It is therefore time to focus more strongly than before on diversity in the workforce, to increase the proportion of women on the boards of companies and to improve the reconciliation of work and family.

Economic policy is always also a policy for women

Economic policy can be a powerful tool to strengthen women in business and to put their achievements in the spotlight. The Economic Affairs Ministry’s targeted initiatives for women entrepreneurs and support of female entrepreneurial spirit are in line with its guiding principle of the Social Market Economy, which understands social justice and participation as a foundation stone for everyone to participate in prosperity. The topic of equality is an integral part of BMWi policy - be it with initiatives like“FRAUEN unternehmen” the female entrepreneur breakfast or in its discussions with companies and politics at home and abroad or at the annual Girls‘Day (in German).

More on this in an interview (in German) with Brigitte Zypries here.

Four figures about women in business

Symbolicon für Frau

is the proportion of new businesses founded by women

Symbolicon für Netzwerke

is the proportion of new full-time businesses founded by women

Symbolicon für Statistik

per cent
is the proportion of women on the supervisory boards of DAX companies without a women's quota (October 2020)

Icon for meeting

per cent
of management positions in the federal administration are held by women

Giving women entrepreneurs a boost

Using role models to encourage women to start out in business

Fewer than one in three companies is set up by a woman. As for technology-based start-ups, the statistic is even lower. This shows that the start-up scene needs to become more attractive for women.

The number of independent professional women has risen in the last few decades, but the image of “the entrepreneur” in Germany is still male-dominated. The number of start-ups founded by women is increasing, and nowadays more of these are full-time, and not just part-time, occupations (2016: 39%). More women setting up companies means more ideas, more jobs, and stronger growth for Germany. A high level of diversity of business models and corporate cultures can also generate crucial competitive advantages.

Successful women entrepreneurs as role models

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy wants to encourage women to use their qualifications and skills to realise their own business ideas and to build up successful companies. The Economic Affairs Ministry’s “WOMEN Entrepreneurs” initiative has been spotlighting women entrepreneurs in nearly all sectors since 2014.

Under the initiative, successful women entrepreneurs serve as role models for schoolgirls, trainees, students, graduates and other women interested in going into business, showing them the opportunities and challenges of running one’s own business. This gives the women and girls a realistic and highly personal insight into what daily life as an entrepreneur is really like. The women entrepreneurs show how entrepreneurship can be an attractive career option for women. The “WOMEN Entrepreneurs” initiative also helps to make the work undertaken by female entrepreneurs more visible – presenting their success, their dedication, and their contribution to the future of Germany’s economy.

The “Women Entrepreneurs’ Breakfast”, which was launched in 2014, is targeted at women interested in going into business, bringing them together with successful women entrepreneurs and providing ideas about all the issues relating to start-ups. For further information, please click here.

Giving targeted support to women entrepreneurs

In order to furnish women interested in setting up a business with tailored information for their projects, the Economic Affairs Ministry has set up a women entrepreneurs. The website presents local contacts and networks, runs a hotline for direct contacts, and works with the nationwide Agency for Women Start-ups to present women who have successfully set up their own company. For more than ten years, the Agency for Women Start-ups has offered a nationwide network of 2,000 regional partners for the exchange of experience between female Start-up entrepreneurs and businesswomen.

Successful women in the digital sector

Whilst far fewer women set up a company in technology-oriented fields, there are successful women entrepreneurs here too. The “Women in digital” initiative therefore aims to increase the visibility of the female digital founders and entrepreneurs and to support their networking among themselves. “Women in digital” offers female decision-makers in companies, the media, politics, organisations and business associations a platform for cooperation, projects and dialogue. You can find out more on the “Women in digital” website.

Wall with post-its from an Start-Up; Quelle: Getty Images/Emely

© Getty Images/Emely

Start-ups: a driving force for growth and competition

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Women in executive positions

Breaking through the glass ceiling

The introduction of a statutory quota for women in executive positions is an important step towards more equality of opportunity for women and men in the world of business and work.

Currently, only six of the 185 supervisory boards of the DAX, MDAX, SDAX and TecDAX listed companies and of the 25 companies where employees are represented at board-level, have a chairwoman. And only around one quarter (25.9%) of the supervisory board members are women. Only 6.8% of board members are women, and the proportion of women in management positions in the federal administration only amounts to 35%.

Since 1 January 2016, there has been a fixed gender quota of 30% where new supervisory board positions have to be filled in companies that are listed and subject to full co-determination. There has also been a gender quota for the public service since 2016. Further to this, 3,500 other companies are required to set their own targets to improve the proportion of women on supervisory boards, executive boards and at top managerial levels.

The Act on the Equal Participation of Women and Men in Executive Positions in the Private and Public Service, which entered into force on 1 May 2015, has already resulted in an increased proportion of women in top positions. The aim of the Act is to significantly improve the proportion of women in leading positions and to arrive at gender parity. There will be a cultural shift, not only in the top managerial levels of German firms, but also in terms of equal opportunities throughout companies.

Fair salaries and wages?

The fact that, despite their outstanding qualifications, far fewer women are in top posts, is also reflected in salaries: On average, female managers in Germany earned 26.8 % less than their male colleagues in 2014 (Source: Eurostat, PDF: 518 KB).

And even below the executive levels, women are still paid less: Given comparable qualifications, activities and careers, the wage differential is 6 % (the “adjusted” wage differential). Even if the law requiring equal pay for women and men in equal and equivalent jobs has been in place for more than 50 years, the wage gap continues to be a fact of life in Germany.

In view of this, the coalition agreement contains measures to remove the wage gap. In addition to the minimum wage, the ongoing expansion of childcare, the parental allowance “Plus” and the Act on Family Care, all of which have an indirect effect on wage equality, the Federal Government has launched two path-breaking pieces of legislation during this legislative term: the Act on the Equal Participation of Women and Men in Executive Positions in the Private and Public Service requires large companies to boost the proportion of women at executive level. Additionally, the federal cabinet adopted the Act Promoting Transparency of Remuneration Structures in January 2017, clearing the way for greater transparency on salaries.

So the “women’s quota” is just one step towards greater equality of opportunity. The main advance has to take the form of a new mindset in the companies themselves: they have to realise that modern HR management and transparent voluntary commitments have a positive long-term impact on their profits.



Skilled professionals for Germany

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Combining Family and Career

The competitive advantage of being family-friendly

If you want to compete, you need to give your employees your full backing. Even today, the demographic development is resulting in a clear skills shortage in some occupations, sectors and regions.

The competitiveness of our companies depends largely on the creativity, performance and skills of the employees. Companies which reward commitment and offer working conditions which make them competitive in the long term will always benefit from motivated employees. Measures to improve the compatibility of family life and work pay off for the business and for the economy.

A family-friendly company has greater employee loyalty

The entire business culture must become more family-friendly. That is the only way for women to be able to develop their potential in working life and their leadership qualities, as studies show that it is still the women who take charge of caring for children and relatives. Whether it is flexible working-time models, reintegration courses, mentoring programmes, coaching for women executives or women’s networks – all the measures must be mutually coherent. The family-friendly business culture must also be backed by a care infrastructure which is close to home, meets the needs, and is high quality.

Making it easier to combine family life and a career

The provision of needs-based childcare services is an investment in the future. Since 1 August 2013, every child aged one and over has had a legal entitlement to childcare (either a place in a daycare centre or with a childminder). The Federal Government is providing a large amount of financial assistance to help the Länder and municipalities expand and operate their childcare services for the under-threes.

And the new rules on family care time help families if, in addition to work and perhaps childcare, they have to look after a close relative. The Act on Improved Compatibility of Family Life, Long-term Care and Work, which entered into force on 1 January 2015, permits employees to claim up to 24 months’ partial leave from work to look after a close relative. For further information, please visit the website of the Federal Families Ministry.

Setting a good example: a family-aware HR policy in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

The Economic Affairs Ministry is setting a good example in terms of compatibility of work and family life. The Ministry was the first to be awarded a berufundfamilie audit certificate in 2002, and has been recognised for its family-friendly HR policy.

The audit, which was designed on behalf of the non-profit-making Hertie Foundation, is a strategic management instrument which helps companies and organisations to make the working environment more family-friendly for the employees. Since 2004, the Economic Affairs Ministry and the Family Affairs Ministry have been joint patrons of the berufundfamilie audit and award the certificates of the audit with a view to encouraging a good balance between the interests of the company and those of the employees.