A woman takes some notes as she stands on the gallery over share prize index boards at the German stock exchange in Frankfurt,
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Not enough.
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Germany’s brand new 30% quota for women on corporate boards is already being criticized

By Cassie Werber

Germany’s parliament has just voted in a law compelling large companies to give 30% of non-executive board seats to women. But the legislation (link in German), which comes into force in 2016, is already being criticized as toothless.

Ute Walter, writing in Deutsche Welle, pointed out that supervisory boards provide oversight, rather than making real company decisions. She called for better representation on management boards, for cultural change and more equal salaries.

The Guardian, meanwhile, noted that only around 100 large German companies will directly be affected; another 3,500 will have to devise quotas for themselves.

In enacting the law, Germany becomes the latest in a string of countries to use the law as a means to begin addressing gender inequality in business. Norway was first, introducing a 40% quota in 2003, before making it compulsory in 2006, and threatening companies with dissolution if they failed to comply.

Country after country has concluded that grassroots change isn’t happening fast enough. Belgium, Spain, Iceland, Italy, and the Netherlands have introduced quotas.

Some say that they simply don’t work: while Norway has plenty of women on boards, fewer than 6% of general managers in Norwegian listed companies are female. Another argument suggests that the boardroom has become an “obsession” of the privileged (paywall), and that other forms of gender inequality are more important.

Meanwhile, the holy grail for some British campaigners is reaching 30% boardroom representation—and doing it without the help of legislation.