top of page


Ageing baby boomers provide openings for women to advance to senior roles in business

Simone Bagel-Trah head of the supervisory board of Henkel. Henkel AG is a German multinational chemical and consumer goods company headquartered in Düsseldorf, Germany. Founded in 1876, the company, listed on the German DAX share index, is organised into two globally operating business units (Consumer Brands, Adhesive Technologies) and is known for brands such as Loctite, Persil, Pritt, Fa, Dial and Purex. The company employs some 48,000 people worldwide.

May 2024: Very few women make it to the top levels of German family-owned businesses, says a new study by the non-profit Allbright Foundation. The proportion of female managers in the 100 family-owned companies with the highest turnover stands at just 12.6 per cent. Although the proportion of women has increased by four percentage points since the last survey two years ago, it remains significantly below that of the 160 companies listed on the German stock exchanges, where it averages 19 per cent. Some 46 per cent of German companies with a turnover of more than 50 million euros are family-owned businesses.


“It is high time to promote women to leading management positions if family-owned businesses want to remain attractive employers,” the study’s authors commented.


Companies like Aldi, Lidl, Bertelsmann, Bosch, Porsche, Henkel, Miele, Oetker and Otto, the best-known German global family businesses, shape the country’s economy. Now the baby boomer generation is about to retire from the companies and almost half of family businesses face a generational change. The 100 largest family-owned companies have long struggled with women in management, but now there is some movement: At 12.6 per cent, the proportion of women is still very low, but the generational change offers an opportunity to modernise management structures quickly. However, some companies are already showing how it can be done.


The greater the influence of non-family shareholders in companies, the higher the proportion of women on the management boards. Some 20 of the 100 largest German family-owned companies are also listed on the Frankfurt stock exchanges (DAX, MDAX, SDAX) with family members holding a significant proportion of the shares (e.g. BMW, Continental, Henkel or Merck). At just below 20 per cent, the proportion of women on the management boards of these companies corresponds roughly to the average for all listed companies and is therefore significantly higher than for non-listed family-oned companies (10.6%).


Powerful positions such as the chairmanships of the management or the supervisory boards are still predominantly entrusted to men from within the share-owning families. Only two of the large family businesses have female family members as CEOs: Anna Maria Braun at B. Braun Melsungen and Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller at Trumpf. Since March 2020, not a single woman from a business family has joined a management board. There are only three women in the chair of supervisory boards: Cathrina Claas-Mühlhäuser (Claas), Simone Bagel-Trah (Henkel) and Bettina Würth (Würth).


According to separate research by the Family Business Foundation (Stiftung Familienunternehmen), some 90 per cent of all German companies are family-controlled businesses. They generate 55 per cent of national turnover and account for around 57 per cent of all employment. The Family Business Foundation points out that the German economy is characterised by many more large family businesses compared to other industrial nations. Some 46 per cent of companies with a turnover of more than 50 million euros are family-owned businesses.

IN YOUR OPINION: Please comment


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page