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The Spanish Belén Garijo, the first woman leader of a large company in Germany

This weekend the Merck laboratory became the first large German company to appoint a woman as president, the Spanish Belén Garijo, in the middle of a discussion about female quotas in company management.

“For me it is more important not to be the last woman at the head of a Dax company”, the star index of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, “than to be the only one”, highlighted this 60-year-old doctor by training in an interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Merck, a family business established in Darmstadt, south of Frankfurt, has never been run by a woman in its 350 years of existence.

Garijo will succeed Stefan Oschmann, 63, who ran the lab for five years.

This mother of two children, a fan of the Real Madrid football club, is going to take the reins of a financially solid group – last year it registered a net profit of close to 2 billion euros, about 2.4 billion dollars – and to the vanguard in the fight against the covid-19 pandemic.

It is a supplier to vaccine manufacturers such as those of the Pfizer-BioNTech alliance.

In this sense, Garijo said that his immediate focus will be on the fight against the pandemic and announced that Merck will increase the deliveries of lipids used in the production of vaccines for clients such as Pfizer / BioNTech in the coming months.

“We are turning the house upside down to do it,” he told German news agency DPA.

Belén Garijo assured that her appointment is solely due to the fact of having worked “hard” throughout her career and having taken advantage of opportunities “when they presented themselves.”

Garijo quickly established himself at Merck, where he began working in 2011, running the company’s health center. Previously, he had led the European operations of Sanofi-Aventis (now Sanofi).

– Law under discussion –

Garijo rejects the idea of ​​imposing quotas for women in management bodies, claiming to be “against any form of discrimination, including positive discrimination.”

According to a bill on which the German Parliament has not yet ruled, at least one woman is required to occupy a position on the boards of large companies with more than three members.

According to the Ministry of the Family, 73 companies would be affected by this change in the rule, of which 32 do not currently have a woman in their management instance.

This text also stipulates that the directors of companies in which the State is the majority shareholder must have at least 30% women. The deadline would be the end of 2025.

– 14% of positions –

In 2016, Germany had already taken a first step for companies to feminize their supervisory boards. The proportion is now 35%.

But in executive addresses and directories, the results are made to wait, hence the text of the law.

“It is time that, after the supervisory boards, something finally happened in the boards, also in the interests of the companies,” says Katharina Wrohlich, director of gender research at the DIW economic institute.

At the end of 2020, out of a sample of 200 large companies – representing 468 management positions – only four women were presidents in Germany and 64 were members of the board of directors.

For example, American Jennifer Morgan was appointed co-director of software maker SAP in October 2019, but left her post in April 2020, and the other co-director, German Christian Klein, took the reins.

In terms of institutions, the European Central Bank, based in Frankfurt, is headed for the first time by a woman, the French Christine Lagarde.

The German Chancellery has been occupied for 16 years by Angela Merkel, who will leave her functions after the September elections.

The chancellor had doubts for a long time on the subject but finally supported the text. “I consider it absolutely unsatisfactory not to have a single woman on a board of” Dax, “it is a situation that we cannot be satisfied with,” he said last year in his presentation.


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