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Article - Women in Business

Women in business


Women in Business

Women in Business

© BMWK / Bundesfoto / Czybik

Women in Business

Making more of women’s talents

Women play a key role for the green and digital transformation of the economy as businesswomen, entrepreneurs, managers and skilled workers.

Women account for about half of the working population, possess excellent skills and qualifications and can increasingly be found in areas dominated by men. They set up their own businesses, develop new products and services and create jobs and training places. Self-employed women in Germany employ 3.4 million people and provide training for some 100,000 young people. In their roles as decision-makers, they are actively shaping the future of our country.

But there’s still plenty of untapped potential:

  • Given the number of women in Germany’s working population, there could be many more in executive positions. The current share is approx. 29%.
  • The proportion of women board members in Germany’s 160 listed companies has risen over the past years and has reached an all-time high at 17%. However, this leaves potential for further development.
  • There are roughly 3.8 million small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany, of which 16% or 757,000 are managed by women.
  • 44% of Germany’s women entrepreneurs run their businesses as a sideline.
  • Women account for approx. 25% of Germany’s self-employed employers and for 39% of the country’s own-account workers.

Women-led companies account for a high proportion of businesses in services (89%), in skilled crafts not subject to authorisation (almost 52%) and of social enterprises (approx. 50%).

This still leaves Germany behind some of its international competitors, including the U.S., France and the UK, causing a competitive disadvantage for the country. After all, studies have shown that the more diverse a company’s board of management, the more successful and innovative a company will be.

Economic policy is always also a policy for women

Various multi-faceted approaches are required to allow women to bring their full potential to their working lives and economic activities. For instance, Germany needs adjustments that allow for better reconciliation of work and family/carework and that foster awareness of responsibilities within a partnership, thus strengthening women’s economic independence. Equal economic participation is a matter of social justice, but also creates potential for greater prosperity and sustainability in the interest of the socio-ecological market economy.

The Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry is responsible for SME financing, vocational training regulations, startups and young companies. For years, it has been supporting women through financing and through programmes in the fields of vocational training and entrepreneurship. Examples include:

  • the ‘free from clichés’ initiative
  • the SCHULEWIRTSCHAFT competition bringing together school students and local companies
  • the ‘EXIST – University-based Business start-ups’ programme
  • the WOMEN Entrepreneurs network
  • participation in the annual Girls’ Day

Gender equality is clearly a firm component of the Ministry’s policy.

Launch of the ‘WOMEN in SMEs, the skilled crafts, new businesses and innovative startups’ initiative

In September 2022, the Ministry’s ‘WOMEN in SMEs, the skilled crafts, new businesses and innovative startups’ initiative was kicked off at a virtual event. On the guest list were committed female entrepreneurs and representatives of associations, initiatives and scientific institutions. They were welcomed by Franziska Brantner, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry, and Michael Kellner, also Parliamentary State Secretary at the Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry and the Federal Government’s SME Commissioner. Said State Secretary Kellner: “We want to strengthen women in SMEs and are therefore bringing together several different initiatives. As we design our policy, we in the Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry have various ways to gain an understanding of the interests and the personal situations of female entrepreneurs. This can be done, for instance, in our policies on startups, SME financing, vocational training and through networking.’

Participants gave accounts of obstacles faced by female entrepreneurs and also pointed out that prejudice persists and that a change of mindset is needed. They tabled their own proposals and outlined potential ways forward. It became clear that the work of the Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry, with its strong focus on SMEs, is particularly important for female founders of small companies and for female own-account workers. State Secretary Brantner said: “What is needed in a crisis are strong stakeholders and all innovative minds. This is why this is the time to pave the way for women powering the sustainable and digital transformation. Often, the time to set up a company coincides with the time to start a family. Both must be possible at the same time.”

In late 2022/early 2023, five workshops were held, each one dedicated to some of the issues discussed at the kick-off event. On the basis of these workshops, an action plan entitled More women entrepreneurs for SMEs was drawn up and presented to the public on 23 May. It contains more than 40 measures designed to

  • provide female startup entrepreneurs with greater access to financing and venture capital;
  • improve the situation for self-employed women and thus attract more women to start their own business or take over an existing company;
  • capture girls’ and womens’ interest in climate-related technologies and the energy transition and attract them to skilled crafts and STEM jobs;
  • to showcase and honour the achievements of self-employed women of German and foreign extraction.

And – even more importantly –the action plan is the joint work of 32 partners (federal ministries, associations, networks, providers of financing and scientific institutes). Its objective is to pool the various measures undertaken by each of these partners together to create a greater combined impact and reach. Following its publication, the action plan has remained open for new stakeholders wishing to play an active part in its implementation.

The plan is to take stock at the end of this parliament to see how much will have been achieved by then.

Videos on the subject of women in business

Women in business – WOMEN in SMEs, the skilled crafts, new businesses and innovative startups

Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens
Copyright: BMWK/ Andreas Mertens

Four figures about women in business

Symbolicon für Frau

per cent
is the proportion of new businesses founded by women

Symbolicon für Netzwerke

per cent
is the proportion of women among startup entrepreneurs

Symbolicon für Statistik

per cent
is the proportion of all-women teams accessing venture capital

Icon for meeting

per cent
the proportion of women in management positions in the federal administration

Startups founded by women

Ideas for the transformation of business developed by women

Germany needs more women entrepreneurs: female (startup) entrepreneurs have their own take on life and work – and therefore often come up with ideas and approaches that are new to Germany’s business community. What is more: as role models for other women and for the next generation, they contribute to the transformation of business and society.

An increasing number of women are starting their own businesses. They now account for 42% of entrepreneurs in Germany (compared to 38% in 2020). Young women, in particular, are choosing this career path. A few facts and figures:

  • Some 25% of Germany’s skilled crafts businesses were established by a women; women account for 17% of all master craftsperson certificates acquired in Germany.
  • Where the liberal professions are concerned, women already make up 54% of the businesses created in the relevant fields.
  • Innovative startups with all-women teams are fairly uncommon, making up just over 20% of the total.
  • At the same rate as men of foreign extraction, women of foreign extraction are more likely to start a business than women of German extraction.
  • Women often run their businesses as a sideline, i.e. whilst also working as an employee (44% of all female founders).

Successful women entrepreneurs as role models

The Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry’s WOMEN Entrepreneurs initiative supports schools and higher education institutes that foster self-employment and entrepreneurship. Under this initiative, ‘role model women entrepreneurs’ give talks and are available for meetings and interaction, all on an honorary basis. There are more than 235 of these successful women entrepreneurs spreading the message about the opportunities of self-employment to female school and university students, trainees, graduates and women interested in founding a company. They demonstrate that self-employment and leading a company are attractive career opportunities. Also, they explain how they have overcome difficulties when establishing their companies and how they deal with the daily challenges associated with being an entrepreneur.

At the same time, the WOMEN Entrepreneurs initiative also helps to make the work undertaken by female entrepreneurs more visible – presenting their success, their dedication and their contribution to Germany’s sustainable economic future.

Support for startups

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action provides women and men interested in entrepreneurship with a wide range of information on how to set up a new business. For female entrepreneurs, there is also information on more than 2,000 regional networks and dedicated networks and mentoring programmes.

An overview of all the funding programmes available at EU, federal and Länder level can be found in the database on funding. This also has a special female funding category containing programmes for women and programmes that have special components dedicated to women.

The Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry wants to provide even more targeted support for prospective entrepreneurs and women and men interested in starting their own business, particularly during the planning stages. This is why it has worked with the KfW to establish the digital Entrepreneurship Platform. This platform hosts a digital toolbox setting out all the steps involved in establishing a company. It allows budding entrepreneurs to develop a first idea or business model, draft a business plan, enquire about funding and financing and enter into contact with the relevant institutions online. There are also webinars on specific issues and videos of successful entrepreneurs sharing their experience and giving useful advice. A mentoring section for prospective women entrepreneurs offers coaching and consultancy services free of charge.

Wall with post-its from an Start-Up; Quelle: Getty Images/Emely

© Getty Images/Emely

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Women in executive positions

Mixed teams have special strengths

Having more women in executive positions is an important step towards greater gender equality in the world of business and work.

Since 2015, there has been a fixed quota of at least 30% women and at least 30% men where new supervisory board positions have to be filled in companies that are listed and subject to full co-determination. This is stipulated by the Act on the Equal Participation of Women and Men in Executive Positions in the Private and Public Service (Erstes Führungspositionen-Gesetz (FüPoG I). As a result of this legislation, the proportion of women on company supervisory boards has increased by a significant degree and now stands at 36.8% (figure for February 2023).

The share of female members on the boards of Germany’s 160 listed companies is much lower (17.1% in March 2023).

The 2021 Act Amending the Rules on the Equal Participation of Women and Men in Leadership Positions in the Private and Public Sectors (FüPoG II) is to help further increase the share of women in leadership positions. It sets out rules for private-sector companies and companies in which the Federation has a majority stake.

It stipulates that listed companies and private-sector companies that are co-determined on the basis of parity must have at least one female member on the management board if that board has more than three positions. The new rule applies for new appointments made as of 1 August 2022.

Companies in which the federation has a majority shareholding and which have more than two members on their leadership body are already required to have at least one of these positions filled by a woman. For these companies, a firm ‘women’s quota’ of 30% also applies as far as membership of the supervisory boards are concerned. This shows that the federation is leading by example.
In recent years, the Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry has taken various measures to boost the number of women in its management positions. As a result, this number has increased to approx. 45% (as of 30 June 2022), compared to approx. 34% in 2018.

Combining family and career

The competitive advantage of being family-friendly

Allowing employees to reconcile their careers and their family and carework is an important element of success for businesses: companies that want to secure the best talent in a competitive market need to support their employees in their efforts to fulfil both their private and professional obligations. The Economic Affairs and Climate Ministry leads by example: we offer:

  • tailored, individual part-time models, including for employees in management positions,
  • the possibility of mobile work
  • events facilitating the return of employees from parental leave/family leave
  • a mentoring programme for employees returning after a long period of parental leave, maternity leave or special leave for family-related reasons
  • parking places reserved for parents and offices equipped for parents and young children
  • cooperation with child day-care centres and a day-care facility
  • the awo lifebalance family service (professional support and advisory services for those seeking to organise childcare and care for relatives)
  • advice on (long-term) care and events on the subject of ‘care’

Since 2002, the Ministry has held the ‘audit berufundfamilie®’ for family-friendly employers by berufundfamilie Service GmbH. It was the first Federal Ministry to receive this certificate. After many years of commitment to an ‘HR policy mindful of families and different needs at different stages of life’, the Ministry was awarded the permanent certificate in September 2019. Evaluations continue on a regular basis, last in February 2023.



Skilled professionals for Germany

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