BERLIN (Reuters) - The wage gap between men and women is wider in Germany than in any other European country and women occupy just four percent of top corporate jobs, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Monday.
Germany may be run by a woman but it is still lagging on gender issues, despite promises to change its ways.
Full-time employed women earn 21.6 percent less on average than their male counterparts in Germany, a pay gap that is well above the OECD average of 16 percent. In Norway and Belgium, women receive 8.4 and 8.9 percent less.
"In no other European country is the wage gap between men and women so strong as in Germany," the OECD wrote. "And with regards to the number of women in leading positions too, Germany is lagging by international comparison."
Women occupy just four percent of top corporate jobs in Germany, versus an OECD average of 10 percent, according to the latest data from 2009.
In Sweden, France, Slovak Republic and Finland the proportion of women on boards is between 15 and 20 percent, while in Norway, it is close to 40 percent as a result of a mandatory quota introduced in 2006.
Germany's 30 top companies set voluntary targets last October 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.
But they may be too late. The European Commission moved one step closer on Monday to forcing companies to increase the number of women on their boards with a consultation on imposed quotas.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has kickstarted a three-month debate that could result in legislative action, a year after she called on companies to take voluntary steps to increase the number of women on boards to 30 percent by 2015 and 40 percent by 2020.
In Germany, there was not a single woman on the management board of a blue-chip firm until 2008.
"We need some obligation in the path to having more women in leading positions, we need sanctions if nothing happens," said Ingrid Sehrbrock of the German DGB union federation. "In short, we need the quota."
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet has been 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, while Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen said it could be necessary.
"There are tangible economic reasons for an appropriate share of women in leading positions," von der Leyen told German daily "Der Tagesspiegel."
Increasing the number of female executives could improve corporate leadership style and boost earnings, surveys show. Companies with a higher proportion of women in management outperform their sector in terms of return on equity, operating profit and stock price growth, according to McKinsey.
Reporting By Rene Wagner and Sarah Marsh