Despite Germany having had a female leader in Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2005, female shipping executives say German shipping is behind the curve on gender diversity.

The gender imbalance manifests itself in the German Shipowners' Association (VDR), which lists 24 directors on its board. However, not a single one is female.

The Capital Link shipping conference on German shipping – scheduled for late January – initially listed 35 panellists. Again, none were women.

“Germany is lagging a little bit behind when it comes to females in leadership roles," WISTA Germany chairwoman Claudia Ohlmeier said. “It’s still a man’s world in Germany.”

In Scandinavia, the Mediterranean and Asian shipping companies, family ties often smooth the way for women to break through the glass ceiling.

However, it seems to be different in Germany.

Daughters of the country’s shipowners do not seem to gravitate towards the shipping business. Henning Oldendorff, Germany’s biggest shipowner, has three daughters but none have active roles in the company.

Heinrich Schulte has five daughters. But it is the two male heirs — Johann and Christoph — who are following in his footsteps as heirs to the Schulte Group.

"The problem is obvious, but change has to come from the companies themselves that should see the benefits of diversity," a shipowning source said.

Reluctant acceptance

However, things may be about to change. On 6 January, Merkel’s cabinet approved a draft bill that will force listed companies with four executives or more to appoint at least one woman to their boards.

But Germany has so few listed shipping companies that it will likely have little impact on the maritime sector.

Only Hapag-Lloyd, which has a board of four men, might have to adapt.

Moreover, female shipping executives contacted by TradeWinds appeared reluctant to endorse gender equity quotas for fear they might stigmatise women who have been promoted to top jobs.

Stephanie Schillgalies believes it will probably take a generational shift at the management level for attitudes to change. Photo: Stefanie Schillgalies

But the slow pace of change now seems to have led them to argue that the time has come for them to be adopted.

“If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said I don’t like quotas,” said Ohlmeier, who is group leader for port state control at classification society DNV GL.

“Now, I think we need quotas. I still don’t like it, but there needs to be a change in a lot of areas.”

Franziska Eckhoff, who is from the family behind Jork-based Reederei Eckhoff, is also uneasy at the concept of quotas, but feels they may be necessary.

“We kind of need it for equality," she said. "Once it’s pushed, maybe it will go a little bit faster.”

Franziska Eckhoff believes the pace of change is too slow. Photo: Franziska Eckhoff

Quotas are seen as a partial solution to a wider problem of a lack of women in shipping.

Stephanie Schillgalies, chartering manager for SAL Heavy Lift, believes it will probably take a generational shift at the management level for attitudes to change.

“Germany is very old school in respect of bringing any women onto the stage,” Schillgalies said.

She added that solving the issue may involve educating girls at school about the shipping industry.

Structural issues

German companies rank behind other nations in terms of female board members, according to the AllBright Foundation, which works to promote boardroom diversity.

Only 12.8% of management board members at Germany's 30 largest listed companies are women.

In contrast, AllBright said women account for 28.6% of top roles in the US, 24.5% in the UK and 22.2% in France.

There are also structural issues with the shrinking German fleet that quotas will do nothing to solve.

“Some years ago, I could have named two or three female shipowners,” Eckhoff said.

“But their companies — like ours — don’t have ships anymore and are in the winding down stage.”

Some actions are being contemplated that may help attract women into German shipping. Mentoring programmes run by WISTA Germany are designed to help women get into leading positions.

Other initiatives could involve encouraging companies to refuse to speak on panels where there are only men.

“That is something that we can all do, to just challenge people,” Ohlmeier said. “It’s proven that diverse teams are more effective and more efficient. However, we are missing female talent.”