Press Release from 2023-03-01 / Group, KfW Research

KfW Research ahead of International Women’s Day: Number of female SME managers rises to a record three quarters of a million

  • Women are at the helm of one in five small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany
  • Increase in “female start-ups” is driving growth
  • Services businesses in particular are headed by women

More small and medium-sized enterprises than ever now have a female boss. One in five of the roughly 3.8 million SMEs in Germany (19.7%) were being managed by a woman last year (2021: 16.0%). The number of women at the top of a small and medium-sized enterprise rose significantly from the previous year to around 757,000 (+ approx. 150,000). These are the findings of a special survey recently conducted by KfW Research on the basis of the representative KfW SME Panel 2022 in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March.

“We have good news to coincide with International Women’s Day. The share of female executives in German SMEs has reached a new high, with one in five SMEs now headed by a woman. Their number has grown by an impressive 150,000 to three quarters of a million”, said Dr Fritzi Köhler-Geib. “A renewed entrepreneurial spirit among women has been the key driver.” In 2021, 42% of all new businesses were founded by women, according to the KfW Entrepreneurship Monitor.

The proportion of female executives in large enterprises is also increasing but remains slightly lower than among SMEs. On the management boards of the 101 largest enterprises that fall under the Second Act on Equal Participation of Men and Women in Management Positions, that share was 16.2% in 2022 (14.1% in 2021). Women occupied 16% of the management board positions of the 200 German companies with the highest turnover.

Among SMEs, female executives are typically found in the services sector, where 92% manage a small or medium-sized services business. That proportion is now higher than ever. The highest share of female executives is found in knowledge-intensive services, where around 26% of businesses are headed by a woman. These include architecture and engineering firms, law firms, tax accountants, management consulting firms and data processing firms. By contrast, the share of female executives in research and development-intensive manufacturing – which includes mechanical engineering, medical technology, instrumentation and control technology, automotive engineering and pharmaceuticals – is only 2% and in the construction industry 5%.

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Portrait Christine Volk