BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's 30 top companies set voluntary targets on Monday to raise the number of women in leadership positions, in the hope of averting legally imposed quotas as a campaign to smash the glass ceiling gains momentum.
While the political leader of Europe's largest economy is a woman, corporate management is still heavily dominated by men. There was not a single woman on the management board of a blue-chip firm until 2008, and today only 3.7 percent of top German managers are female.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet is at odds over whether legislation is the right tool to help women penetrate the commanding heights of business. Both Family Affairs Minister Kristina Schroeder and Merkel have so far rejected the idea of setting a legal quota.
Schroeder welcomed Monday's voluntary targets as serious progress, but Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen called them "insufficient" and suggested a legal quota may be necessary.
Some other European countries, such as Norway, France and Spain, require top listed companies by law to ensure at least a third of top management is female.
Germany's blue-chip companies, listed on the DAX index, published striking data on the representation of women at leadership levels as well as the new targets.
"We will let ourselves be publicly assessed year by year on what we have actually achieved," said BMW's personnel manager Harald Krueger, on behalf of firms in the DAX index.
In March, Germany's blue-chip companies agreed to set voluntary targets to boost the number of women at management levels and on Monday, they published their concrete aims, varying from company to company.
Sporting goods maker Adidas set itself the most ambitious target of 32-35 percent leadership positions going to women by 2015. Some 48 percent of its staff are women.
Healthcare conglomerate Fresenius was the only company to refuse to set a numerical target, saying it would "continue to make qualification and not gender or other personal attributes the criterion for selecting staff."
Some 71 percent of the company's German staff are women, while 19.1 percent of its German leadership positions are held by women. The firm said it would continue to raise this level.
Von der Leyen noted that the blue-chip firms did not propose targets for raising the proportion of women at the very top executive levels -- currently just 3.7 percent.
"This is a seriously below-grade number for the 21st century, it just cannot continue like this," she said.
Monday's data threw up some striking numbers. While 61.2 percent of retailer Metro's German staff are women, just 14.9 percent of leaders are women.
Additional reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann; Editing by Paul Taylor