Germany's leading industrial companies pledged Wednesday to recruit and promote more women, especially in top management jobs, but remained at odds with the government over how best to do it.
The 30 companies listed on Frankfurt's DAX index of blue chip stocks pledged after a meeting with ministers to set company-specific goals to promote more female managers.
"Our goal is to reach a sustainable, company-specific personnel development, as well as adequate representation of women in leadership positions, particularly in top-level management," the companies said in a joint statement.
When the German Economic Institute compared the representation of women in boardrooms in Germany with 10 other developed and developing nations, Germany tied for last place with India, with only 2.2 percent.
Politically, the country ranks better, with women more fairly represented in most political parties and holding six of 16 ministerial posts in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet.
Merkel's minister for families, Kristina Schroeder, released the outline of a government program aimed at pressuring the private sector to better promote qualified women, especially to increase female representation on their management boards by 30 percent by 2013.
The program requires companies to develop internal plans for how to increase the number of women in their boardrooms. Those plans are to be made public and updated annually until 2013.
In 2001, German companies agreed to voluntarily promote more women, with very little to show for it a decade later. In hope of ensuring the new measures will have an impact, they are to eventually include legislation that would bring sanctions against firms that fail to increase their numbers of female managers.
"We are at the beginning of a process," Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, whose push for a quota for women met with resistance in Merkel's government, told reporters.
Details of both agreements proposed on Wednesday remain under discussion and BMW personnel director Harald Krueger said the companies "are fighting for the best solution."
The companies are arguing that it is important to recruit younger women into lower level jobs and groom them to move up within the firm, while the government insists that more women in upper management positions will have a trickle-down effect.
Given the technology-heavy emphasis of many of the DAX companies, including BMW, BASF, Daimler Siemens and Volkswagen, they say they face a legitimate challenge of finding enough women qualified to work for them at any level.
"The most helpful thing for us would be to see more women in technical professions," said Siemens personnel director Brigitte Ederer.