Very few women still make it to the top levels of German family businesses. According to a study by the non-profit Allbright Foundation, the proportion of female managers in the 100 family companies with the highest sales was only 12.6 percent at the beginning of March 2024.

This means that the proportion of women has increased by four percentage points since the last survey two years ago, but remains well below that of the 160 companies in the DAX family, where it averages 19 percent. “If family businesses want to remain attractive employers, it is high time,” commented the managing directors of the Allbright Foundation, Wiebke Ankersen and Christian Berg, with regard to the study results.

“The owners of the 100 largest family businesses are only now beginning to give the issue strategic priority,” said the study that has now been published. Equal opportunities and diversity in management have, however, been on the agenda of listed companies for years – the proportion of women on the boards of the 40 stock market heavyweights of the DAX is 23.7 percent, almost twice as high as the proportion in family businesses.

More transparency could help

The higher the transparency of the company and the influence of non-family actors, the higher the proportion of women in management. In listed family businesses, such as Volkswagen, Henkel or Merck, the proportion of women is 19.6 percent, almost twice as high as that of non-listed family businesses (10.6 percent). “Traditional private family businesses have so far found it difficult to get more women into leadership – be it in active management or in the control committees,” explained Ankersen and Berg.

Almost half of the companies have at least one woman on management. However, there are still some family businesses with large management teams in which not a single woman can be found – including Fressnapf, the Schwarz Group and Diehl. Powerful leadership positions within the owning family would continue to be entrusted to men – only two of the large family businesses had women at the top of the management team.

Allbright: Management on average not very diverse

Overall, according to the Allbright Foundation, the average board member was not very diverse. Accordingly, 87.4 percent of the management members were male, 89 percent were German, around half (49 percent) had a degree in economics and one in fifteen managing directors was called Stefan.

The typical CEO also tends to promote people who are very similar to him. “The upcoming generational change in many business families is an opportunity to quickly bring significantly more women into management,” said Ankersen and Berg. The German-Swedish Allbright Foundation advocates for more women and diversity in management positions in business.

The rate of working mothers is increasing only slightly

The number of working mothers with younger children across the labor market has only increased slightly in recent years. As can be seen from the latest data from the Federal Statistical Office, which Prognos AG evaluated, 74 percent of mothers with their youngest child between the ages of three and six were employed last year – as many as five years ago in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. In the In the previous years 2022 and 2021, the rates were 73 and 72 percent respectively – and therefore only slightly below the value of the previous year, as the data available to the German Press Agency further shows.

Ten years earlier, in 2013, the proportion was 70 percent – and thus deviated only a few percentage points from the rate from the previous year. The increase is somewhat more pronounced compared to 2008: Back then, mothers with at least one child between the ages of three and six still achieved an employment rate of 64 percent.

The development is similar for mothers with their youngest child between one and three years old. Their employment rate has risen somewhat more significantly since 2008, from 41 to the previous high of 54 percent last year. However, according to the data, this peak was already reached in 2022. The increase is also moderate in a ten-year comparison: in 2013, the rate for mothers with at least one child in the youngest age group was 49 percent.

Biggest brake on employment: lack of daycare places

According to the Prognos analysis, the majority of mothers still work part-time – even if the number of working hours has increased since 2008. While in 2008 eleven percent of mothers with children between the ages of three and six worked up to 36 hours a week, by 2023 this figure had already risen to 20 percent.

The number of mothers who work more than 36 hours a week has also increased slightly with the youngest child between the ages of three and six – from 14 (2013) to 16 percent last year. For mothers with even younger children, the rate is still 11 percent – and thus at the 2013 level.

For years, one of the biggest brakes on mothers’ employment has been the slow expansion of childcare places across Germany. According to a Bertelsmann study from last autumn, there is a shortage of around 430,000 daycare places in Germany, despite the legal right to a childcare place.

The study authors also see a need to catch up when it comes to fathers’ involvement in the family. “The role of mothers has changed significantly, but without fathers taking on more responsibility in everyday family life to the same extent,” it says.