“For me, it is more important not to be the last woman at the head of a Dax company”, the flagship index of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, “than to be the only one”, recently confided the Spaniard Belén 60-year-old trained doctor Garijo in an interview with the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
A family business based in Darmstadt, south of Frankfurt, Merck has never had a female boss in its 350 years of existence. Belén Garijo succeeds Stefan Oschmann, 63 years old.
This mother of two, supporter of football club Real Madrid, takes the reins of a financially strong group – it posted a net profit of nearly two billion euros last year – and at the forefront of the fight against the covid-19 pandemic.
It is thus a supplier of vaccine manufacturers such as the BioNtech-Pfizer alliance and Belén Garijo said this weekend that he wanted to further increase deliveries in the coming months.
Opposed to quotas
The manager says she owes her appointment solely to the fact of having worked “hard” throughout her career and having seized opportunities “when they arose”.
If the few women sitting on the staffs of German groups most often have human resources or legal functions, which do not position them ideally to access the supreme management, Belén Garijo quickly established herself.
She was at the helm of Merck’s healthcare division and, before joining the group in 2011, she managed the European operations of Sanofi-Aventis (now Sanofi).
Also, Belén Garijo rejects the idea, under debate, of quotas for women, saying “against any form of discrimination, including positive discrimination”.
According to a bill on which the German Parliament has yet to vote, at least one woman will have to sit on the boards of large companies with more than three members.
Seventy-three companies would be affected by the rule change, thirty-two of which currently have no women in their management body, according to the German Family Ministry. The deadline for the end of December 2025 has been brought forward.
Long hesitant Merkel
In 2016, Germany had already, in a first step, pushed companies to feminize their supervisory boards, the control bodies.
The share is now 35%. On the other hand, in the executive directorates, the results are long overdue, hence the text of the law. “It is time that after the supervisory boards something finally happened within the management boards, also in the interest of companies”, comments Katharina Wrohlich, director of gender research at the German Institute for Studies economic (DIW).
At the end of 2020, out of a sample of 200 companies representing 468 management positions, there were only four women as CEOs in Germany and 64 on the management board.
The American Jennifer Morgan had been appointed co-director of the software manufacturer SAP, in October 2019, but she left this heavyweight of Dax, in April 2020, leaving the controls to the German Christian Klein.
On the institutional side, the European Central Bank, which sits in Frankfurt, is headed for the first time, with Christine Lagarde, by a woman.
And the German Chancellery has been occupied for 16 years by Angela Merkel, who will step down after the September elections. The latter has long been hesitant to legislate on the subject before joining the text under discussion.
“I believe that it is absolutely not satisfactory not to have a single woman in a Dax board, it is a situation which one cannot be satisfied”, she said thus, last year.
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