Gender balance in UK and German boardrooms

27 May 2020
Gender balance on the board. Is this a topic that matters in a time of national crisis? Or is progress towards greater gender balance in the boardroom being put on the backburner during the covid-19 pandemic?

Executive search agency Fidelio has flagged a resurgent interest in ESG in the Board and Executive suite. While there is indeed a focus on people with the “S” coming to the fore, Health and Safety are very much front of mind.

However, taking our foot off the pedal towards greater diversity would be a risk and mistake – challenging times or no challenging times.

Fidelio’s commitment to diversity and the benefits it brings is well documented.  Given our experience and track record in Germany and the UK, Fidelio has hosted a series of seminars over recent years exploring progress towards diversity in these two major European markets, seeking to understand two very different approaches and celebrating what works.

In May we were scheduled to hold the fifth seminar in our “Frauenquote” series in Cologne. In its place, Fidelio hosted “A Snapshot – Gender Diversity in UK and Germany Boardrooms”, including the impact of Covid-19.

Perspectives on diversity

Our panel provided unique insight and clear perspective on German and UK policy, the Boardroom in both markets, as well as the investor perspective:

  • Denise Wilson, Chief Executive, Hampton-Alexander Review​
  • Philine Erfurt Sandhu, Academic Director of the Strategic Competence for Women on Supervisory Boards Certification Programme, the University of Economics and Law Berlin​
  • Hans Hirt, Executive Director and Head of EOS, Federated Hermes​
  • Anne Ruth Herkes, Non-Executive Director, Quintet Private Bank; Deputy Chair of the Board, Merck Finck Privatbankiers AG; Advisory Board Member, The Shaikh Group; Member of the Advisory Council, Diplomatic Academy of Vienna; former State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy, Germany
  • Elisabeth Stheeman, Member of the Supervisory Board, Aareal Bank AG; Non-Executive Director, Edinburgh Investment Trust plc; External Member of the Financial Policy Committee and Financial Market Infrastructure Board, Bank of England​

A snapshot

Fidelio did not need to rehearse the benefits of diversity.Our panel were all committed to increasing gender representation at the Board and Executive table and brought distinct perspective.

We were delighted that Denise Wilson was able to provide hot off the press statistics for the UK. As Fidelio has also clearly seen, the work of many UK Boards continues through the crisis including good governance around Board refreshment and effectiveness. Possibly at a slower pace, Board appointments continue and the Hampton-Alexander Review may be seeing “a pause” but will report early next year.

Germany has been much heralded for its handling of the Covid crisis with the Chancellor’s authority and leadership frequently singled out. But our panel discussion highlighted fears that gender stereotyping is increasing in Germany under the crisis. The Frauenquote was already struggling to deliver results and there are very considerable fears, clearly articulated by Philine Erfurt Sandhu, that Covid may create a retrograde step for gender diversity in Germany.

A very recently published IFS Report in the UK suggests that the UK too may be experiencing some of this stereotyping with women’s professional roles being harder hit by the virus.

Major investors are increasingly making their voice heard internationally but could do more to exert pressure on companies deemed to be dragging their feet on gender diversity in German Boardrooms. This has had an impact in the UK and Hermes committed to continue to engage for greater diversity in German Boardrooms strongly stating the business case.

To see the presentation supporting the webinar, click here.