10/17/2011 05:22 EDT | Updated 12/17/2011 05:12 EST

Top German firms, gov't debate law on representation for women executives

BERLIN - Germany's 30 top public companies pledged Monday to increase the number of women who serve in their top-level management positions during the next five years, as the nation struggles to combat a shortage of qualified personnel by attracting more women to the workplace.

Representatives from the 30 companies traded on the leading DAX index of blue-chip stocks presented individual targets, which ranged from 35 per cent by 2018 at Deutsche Bank to 12 per cent women in leadership positions by Man AG by the end of 2014.

The pledges come six months after members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government first sparked the idea that Germany lags far behind other industrialized nations in promoting women to its highest business positions — a problem it does not have on the political side.

Yet the government remains divided on the key issue of whether gender equality can and should be legislated.

Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the companies' efforts, but criticized them for falling short of what is needed to convince women that they can have a career in Germany that would be as rewarding as what they would be capable of abroad.

"The fact is that in the year 2011, we have 15 per cent women represented on supervisory boards, and 3.7 per cent in the executive boards. That is not acceptable for an economy that competes on the global workplace, such as Germany — we've got to improve" von der Leyen said.

Germany has a female chancellor and five other women in Merkel's Cabinet. But it ranks alongside India in the number of women in boardrooms, with only 2.2 per cent, one of the lowest among developed and developing nations.