About the Project
Simple, but brilliant idea!
Mechtild Düsing, a German Women Lawyers Association (djb) member, was irritated and annoyed that the Supervisory and Executive Boards of companies she holds shares in consisted almost exclusively of men. Being a lawyer, she looked into the German Federal Companies Act (§ 131 Aktiengesetz) and learned that it was sufficient to hold one single share in order to make use of the shareholder’s right to information on company–related matters in the annual general meeting (AGM). She started to question the Board on the representation of women in the Supervisory Board, in executive positions in the companies and on the related measures the companies have taken or would take in order to improve the representation of women on their boards.
This initiative developed into the successful national project of the German Women Lawyers Association (djb) "Women Shareholders Demand Gender Equality", which was quoted by the Financial Times Germany as “the most high profile campaign ever experienced by German attendees of annual general meetings” (Kessler, Gregor/Smolka, Klaus-Max: Hohe Nachfragequote, in: Financial Times Germany from 10.5.2010).
Gender equality and equal opportunities on Supervisory and/or Managing Boards have been on the agenda for a long time both in Germany and other Member States of the European Union (EU), with very little positive change. It is high time to make it happen. The objectives of the project are to:
- develop public awareness, strategies and measurements for more women to be represented in economic decision-making positions in the EU member states,
- demand gender equality by exercising the right to information with regard to actions taken concerning the absence or underrepresentation of women on Supervisory and/or Managing Boards and in other leadership positions,
- put companies under pressure concerning the representation of women in management positions.
How do we do this?
This project works to bring together 11 EU member states (Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom) to share their experiences and launch corresponding activities all over Europe. A similar activity „Paridad en Acción“ has already been launched recently in Spain.
Approximately 100 visits of Annual General Meetings (AGMs) will take place in the first half of 2015. It is foreseen to visit the AGMs of the EURO STOXX 50 index companies, and to ask the boards for detailed information through a questionnaire about women’s representation in leadership positions of the listed companies (Executive and/or Supervisory Board, but also the management positions below) as well as about the companies’ overall activities to promote women’s careers. The EURO STOXX 50 index includes the following eight EU countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Spain. In the selected EU member states which are not represented in the EURO STOXX 50 index (UK, Hungary, and Bulgaria), listed companies will be chosen out of national indices (i.e. for UK the FTSE 100 index, for Hungary the BUX index, for Bulgaria the SOFIX index). The visits of the AGMs in the selected member states will be prepared by workshops and toolkits and accompanied by a broad awareness raising campaign. Finland will serve as a project advisor through the Finland Chamber of Commerce, which will provide best practice examples on increasing women representation in management positions.
The European Commission has awarded a consortium of organisations a contract to implement the project "European Women Shareholders Demand Gender Equality" under the PROGRESS Programme of the European Union. This consortium includes the German Women Lawyers Association (djb) as the project coordinator and the following co-beneficiary partners. These are the non-governmental organisations EWLA, EWLA Bulgaria, the French Women Lawyers Association (A.F.F.J.) and the Hungarian Women (Advocate) Lawyers Association as well as the Finland Chamber of Commerce and the University of West of England, Bristol, for coordination purposes. The Ministry for Justice and Gender Equality of Saxony-Anhalt is hosting the closure event and the Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences is responsible for evaluation and dissemination.
The project is co-funded by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the Ministry for Justice and Gender Equality of Saxony-Anhalt and the Finland Chamber of Commerce.
The EWSDGE project gathers 12 participating EU Member States: Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. Click on the map to access information and contact data of our team in your respective country.
Europe matters for women
When we look at what has been achieved in the past decades in the field of gender equality, some significant positive steps have been taken. In many cases, without common European actions and frameworks, progress in gender equality would have come later or even not at all. However, there is still a lot to be done.
Therefore this project supports in a practical manner the efforts of the European Commission to reach adequate female representation in decision-making positions in the private sector. The European Commission has adopted the women-on-board proposal (COM(2012) 614, 14.11.2012) that has the goal of reaching a 40 percent threshold of women among non-executive directors/ Supervisory Board members by 2020 for private listed companies.
We are also looking forward to accompany the implementation of the Directive 2014/95/EU on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by large companies and groups. From 2017 on the annual reporting has to include social and employee-related aspects, respect for human rights and diversity on boards of directors, taking into account current best practice, international developments and related EU initiatives. It will significantly improve the transparency of EU’s largest companies. If a company fails to pursue policies relating to matters as age, gender, educational and professional background of the management level, it will have to explain why this is the case (comply or explain principle).
We are active and committed European women and we matter for Europe. We want fairness and justice at all levels. We demand gender equality. To that end, we push the legislators at national and European levels not to be faint-hearted, but to be ambitious and act accordingly.