Final Conference


11th February 2016, Brussels. The European Women Shareholders Demand Gender Equality (EWSDGE) final conference was a very inspiring event with a lot of positive energy from participants that came from all over Europe. We were delighted to hear that many people think that gender equality is an issue for both women and men and something that the next generations will strive for. More than 170 participants attended for debate, presentations and discussions under the guise of ‘Gender Balanced Leadership: European Women Shareholders Pave the Way’.

The guests were welcomed by Ramona PISAL, djb President, who reminded everyone of the background to the EWSDGE project, which was the experience of Mechtild Düsing, a German Women Lawyer Association (djb) member. Düsing was annoyed that the Supervisory and Executive Boards of companies she held shares in consisted almost exclusively of men. In 2009, only 10% of the supervisory board members were women. Only one quarter of these women represented the company’s side, three quarters came from the employees’ representation. Among the 194 CEOs of the 30 biggest companies in Germany there was only one woman and she was only the second ever.

In the opening address Prof. Dr. Angela KOLB-JANSSEN, Minister for Justice and Equality of Saxony-Anhalt pointed out also that even today, the higher the management level in companies, the less women are represented.

On this day we also had the opportunity to host our special guest Věra JOUROVÁ, the first ever EU Commissioner for Gender Equality. She was impressed by the very concrete and innovative approach of the EWSDGE project and underlined that we need such actions by civil society to make progress in gender equality. At the same time she added that most of the significant improvements took place in countries that have taken or considered legislative action.

In reply, Marie Jo-ZIMMERMANN, French Member of Parliament (Assemblée nationale) stressed the role of the quota law in France. France is leading in Europe with 32.8 % representation of women of large listed companies, while the EU average is 21.2%. (April 2015).

“We are not promoting that a high qualified, fantastic man should be replaced by any woman. We want to fight this myth, which says that gender is a qualification. We want fair competition and equal opportunities”, said JOUROVÁ. She continued that the number of women in the middle management positions needs to be improved. “Middle management is the talent pool for senior and the top leadership. (…) Investors and shareholders are important partners to monitor the company’s boardroom policy on gender diversity. It is time for shareholders to push and campaign for more balanced boards”.

In the second part of the EWSDGE Final Conference, we discussed the amazing and surprising results of our activities at nine country tables together with the EWSDGE national coordinators, speakers from visited companies, national ministries, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Commitee and many more. We exchanged several concrete and positive ideas about how to achieve equality between women and men in Europe.

It is important to use the existing potential of individuals, organizations and projects like EWSDGE to change the perception in the society towards gender balanced boards so that both women and men in Europe accept the idea more and more. The civil society actors need to work together in networks as they play an essential role in putting the issue of women on boards on the political and corporate agenda. Furthermore, we need to involve both women and men and make them aware of the particular economic value in having more women in decision-making positions.


The participants at the discussions also agreed on the necessity of continuing the EWSDGE activities in the participating member states and will try their very best to do so. The boards of companies might not be happy about the presence of women lawyers submitting questions on gender balanced leadership and would be surprised to have them there again, but this will not deter us. Statistics should be included to clearly point out the facts.

It is desirable that the EWSDGE activities will be developed by increasing the number of selected companies and making face-to-face contacts with selected women employees from those companies. It is important that companies are obliged to provide easily accessible and timely information regarding the dates and times of AGMs, information rights for shareholders and facilitate transnational proxies. It should be normal that speakers advocating gender equality to be treated with respect. Companies should be obliged to provide publicly available, timely, full written answers to submitted written questions with regard to gender and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issues.

During the EWSDGE project lifetime, we have grown together. The network of the national coordinators composed of European Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) members will continue to work together e.g. by exchanging on national activities and on the development at European level. They will meet at side events during EWLA congresses with a separate agenda. They will continue lobbying for binding gender quota legislation.


Ambitious legislation and policies at European and national level are necessary

  1. Adopt binding gender quota legislation.
  2. Governments to make a political decision to require 40 per cent representation of both genders on Boards of state-owned companies.
  3. Increase transparency concerning female representation in corporate structures.
  4. Prepare studies and statistics on women in leadership positions.
  5. Positively develop the equal pay provisions in line with transformative equality.
  6. Strengthen the link between gender equality principles and public procurement.
  7. Develop benefits for companies implementing sound, evidenced gender equality policies.
  8. Develop effective and smart sanctions for non-compliant companies.
  9. Complement the Europe 2020 strategy with transformative gender equality measures.

Companies need to act and change their corporate culture

  1. Develop and implement the leadership “pipeline” and provide a female talent pool.
  2. Realize that women in decision-making positions is a business case.
  3. Develop, communicate, implement and monitor gender equal corporate strategies.

Change of perception in society is needed

  1. Recognize and implement equality between women and men as a fundamental right.
  2. Encourage and implement gender-sensitive education.
  3. Launch public awareness-raising campaigns on gender-balanced leadership.

The EWSDGE project would like to thank all participants for joining our conference, listening to our proposals for gender-balanced leadership and being open to concrete ideas and ways to work together.

Special thanks to our funder the European Commission (PROGRESS Programme) and co-funders 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 and the German Women Lawyers Association (djb) for making the EWSDGE project possible.