German legislators have passed a law requiring large companies to allot at least 30 percent of the seats on their boards to women within the next two years. The bill passed by Germany's lower house of parliament — the Bundestag — on Friday also requires an additional 3,500 companies to set targets to raise the number of women in leadership positions.
If the widely debated law wins final approval in the country’s upper house of parliament, more than 100 leading German companies listed on the stock market could face sanctions and be forced to leave positions unfilled if a qualified woman isn’t found.
"A change in culture has started," family minister Manuela Schwesig said in a statement ahead of the vote. "Simply the debate surrounding the law has triggered a rethinking process in society, in the industry and in the public sector."
A 2014 study showed that despite Germany being led by a woman, Chancellor Angela Merkel, women are still underrepresented on the boards of the country's companies.
"The executive boards of the 200 largest companies in Germany remain a male monoculture," according to the study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). "Only around 4 percent of the 906 executive board positions [are] filled by women."
Experts told NBC News that it remains to be seen whether the measures will succeed.
“The biggest challenge for the firms will be to find an adequate number of female candidates for the supervisory board positions,” professor Kay Windthorst from the Research Center on Family Enterprises at the University of Bayreuth told NBC News.
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— Andy Eckardt
Reuters contributed to this report.