The European dimension of gender equality

Second Project Meeting in Brussels

  • Photo credit: djb e.V.

(18.02.2015) The German Women Lawyers Association (djb) team coordinating the project “European Women Shareholders Demand Gender Equality” (EWSDGE), the national coordinators and project partners met in Brussels on 16th-17th of January 2015, on the occasion of the 2nd project meeting.

Accompanied by Prof. Dr. Angela Kolb (the Minister for Justice and Gender Equality of Saxony-Anhalt) and Dr. Henrike Franz (the Director of the Representation of Saxony-Anhalt to the European Union, where the meeting took place), 25 participants from 11 EU Member States moved to the second round of discussions about promoting women’s leadership across Europe.

This time the meeting was enriched by the presentation of Prof. Dr. Viviane de Beaufort (Professor in European and Comparative Law ESSEC Business School in Cergy/France) related to the under-representation of women on boards and corporate governance. Moreover, the Finnish coordinator Leena Linnainmaa presented the Finnish Women Executives Report 2014 of the Finland Chamber of Commerce in order to share information and experiences of the Finnish model of promoting women’s leadership through self-regulation without legislated quotas. This report provides also statistical information on women on boards in Europe and worldwide.

Annual General Meetings (AGMs) – Let’s get started!

The project is progressing well. In the first half of 2015, approximately 100 visits of AGMs will take place in the following countries:  Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

National toolkits with questionnaires providing a number of questions to be addressed to board members during the AGMs have been developed already. These tools are very important, as the collected answers will be crucial for the project evaluation. The project results will be published in a study and presented at the closure event, hosted in Brussels by the Ministry for Justice and Gender Equality of Saxony-Anhalt.

The gender equality policies in the EU Member States remain heterogeneous. This is the reason why an important task of the EWSDGE national coordinators was to evaluate a questionnaire for each Member State. Now we know for example that in France the information on diversity has to be provided in companies’ annual business reports, which is set by law. In contrast, this legal obligation is not required in Germany.

The EWSDGE project is looking forward to accompany the implementation of the EU Directive 2014/95/EU on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by large companies and groups. This directive obligates EU’s largest companies from 2017 on to include in their annual reporting 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. Referring to this directive, the European women shareholders will ask at the selected AGMs how the companies are planning to implement it.

Not only gender policies are different in the EU Member States. The heterogeneity of the cultures gathered together in the project brings also some other aspects to be dealt with. For example, sometimes it is simply not possible to phrase a question in the same way addressing the boards in Germany and in Spain. Therefore this also needs to be considered.

For a better comparability and analysis the questionnaires have a similar structure, which includes three fields: (1) Supervisory/Executive Board, (2) other executive positions and (3) internal corporate strategy.

The next step of the project is to organize the national workshops for speakers and note takers, in preparation for the visits of the AGMs, which will proceed soon in the participating countries.

Public Relations and Campaign Planning

The Public Relation campaign plays a big role in the project in order to raise public interest and awareness. Therefore, the djb vice President Margarete Hofmann invited Brussels-based journalists to the project meeting. The guests had a chance to become familiar with the project protagonists and their aims. In the same time, the journalists gave advice and made suggestions on how to reach a better visibility of the project, stimulating the debate on social media i.a. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. At the meeting, two creative students from the University of Applied Sciences Magdeburg-Stendal were also present. They also underlined how important the presence in social media is nowadays and shared some own ideas of network interactions.

The EWSDGE project campaign will continue in Lille, where the next project phase, the visits of AGMs, will be launched officially at the European Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) conference on March 5th-7th 2015. A press conference will be organized with the national coordinators including Prof. Jackie Jones, University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE), also President of EWLA, speaking in the name of the project.