It has not been a good month for Deutsche Bank (DB).
Firstly, Europe’s most prominent banker, Josef Ackermann, stated at the company’s annual general meeting that the lack of female executive directors on the DB 7-male management board[i] was something he hoped to address as their addition would bring some colour to the boardroom. [ii] Not talent, wisdom or experience but adornment. The bank also does not have a woman representative on its executive committee whose membership are eventual nominees to the board despite women making up 44% of the bank’s workforce but only 16% of its senior management.
Ackermann’s perspective reverberated around the corporate governance sphere as seemingly outdated views on female gender representation from an influential global financial leader proved not to be so outdated. DB’s response was to dismiss this as part of Ackermann’s character representing the traditional mould. Upon closer inspection, perhaps this should not have been a surprise. In 2010, a study by the German Institute for Economic Research found major under-representation of females on German management boards with only 2.5% of executive board members in the DAX-200 comprising of women and 10% in supervisory boards.[iii] For DB, the first and last time it had a female executive board member was in 1996 with Ellen Schneider-Lenné.[iv]
What compounded this comment is the stark contrast between female representation in the highest level of the German business sphere with its counterparts in the political arena. The German head of government is Chancellor Angela Merkel and out of 16 federal cabinet members, 6 (or 37% of the cabinet) are females (Merkel; Kristina Schröder – Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women & Youth; Annette Schavan – Education and Research ; Ilse Aigner – Food, Agriculture & Consumer Protection; Ursula von der Leyen – Labour and Social Affairs; and Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger – Justice).
Soon after this kerfuffle, the German carmaker Daimler appointed former German constitutional court judge Christine Hohmannn-Dennhardt as its first ever female board member.[v]
As the corporate world in OECD countries is increasingly under pressure to improve gender representation in boardrooms (Australian listed companies are required to have a diversity policy[vi]and the UK Davies Report has recommended a minimum target of 25% female on FTSE 100 boards by 2015[vii]), the struggle continues for women to be recognised for their talents and merits, and not be treated or dismissed as mere adornments.
In a revealing article in The Economist, corporate France seems to be similarly afflicted by the Ackermann perspective with Gallic chief executives said to:
“…look for female board members of a particular type: those who will look decorative and not rock the boat. One boss asked a headhunter for photographs of candidates and said he would treat looks as his first criterion, ahead of industry experience. A board member of a multinational company who opposes the 40% quota said that bosses could simply appoint their wives or—more subtly—their girlfriends.”[viii]
As France’s employers’ union MEDEF President (Ms) Laurence Perisot - channelling Voltaire - so eloquently put it: “sometimes we have to use the law pour encourager les autres.”[ix]
While DB has put this incident behind it, a couple of weeks later its Korean subsidiary was found to be engaging in market manipulation on the stock market[x] and the Korean regulator, the Financial Services Commission has banned its proprietary trading unit for six months. As the Financial Times noted, the country is not willing to compromise the stability of its financial markets for what DB calls “standard international practice.”[xi] The next day, the UK financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority, fined the bank’s mortgage arm and ordered it to pay back aggrieved customers due its irresponsible lending practices.[xii]
February 2011 is perhaps a month the bank would rather forget.
[iii] Holst, E. & Wiemer, A. (2010) Women still greatly under-represented on the top boards of large companies http://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.347859.de/diw_wr_2010-07.pdf
[ix] Parisot, L. (2011) Letter to the Financial Times: If persuasion doesn’t work, legislation will be inevitable. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0a7d8b94-37e4-11e0-b91a-00144feabdc0.html
[xi] Oliver, C. (2011) Deutsche Bank hit by Seoul ban, Financial Times, February 25, Thursday p. 13