BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition has agreed a draft law requiring Germany's top listed companies to give women 30 percent of seats on non-executive boards from 2016, despite conservative misgivings and opposition from business.
Women occupy only seven percent of executive board seats among the 30 largest companies on Germany's blue-chip DAX index. They occupy barely 25 percent of non-executive board seats, according to the DIW economic think-tank although that is above the 20 percent European average for women, according to EU data.
Binding quotas in Europe's biggest economy were championed by the centre-left Social Democrat (SPD), the junior partner in Merkel's left-right coalition.
The draft law, agreed late on Tuesday by senior coalition figures, will affect more than 100 listed companies which have employee representation on their supervisory boards.
A further 3,500 medium-sized companies will have to determine their own quota for executive and supervisory board seats, party officials said.
In 2003, Norway became the first country in the world to impose a gender quota requiring at least 40 percent of public limited company board members to be women. Other countries, including France, Spain and the Netherlands, followed suit.
Merkel - Germany's first female chancellor who leads a cabinet made up of about 40 percent women - was unenthusiastic about quotas but agreed to them as part of the coalition deal reached after elections left her short of an absolute majority.
"We've made a decision, it will be implemented and we'll handle it at our cabinet meeting on December 11. We can't afford to forego the expertise of women," she told parliament.
SPD Family Minister Manuela Schwesig said she expected the law to lead to a fundamental change in Germany’s corporate and management culture.
There will be no exemptions, Justice Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) added, calling it an historic agreement for Germany.
"The fairy tale that there are not enough skilled women can only be told by those who are stuck in the last century," he told ZDF television.
However, the move sparked criticism from some conservatives and from the BDI industry association. "We absolutely do not need any kind of quotas," BDI head Ulrich Grillo said.
(Additional reporting by Thorsten Severin; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Jon Boyle)