There are a number of companies controlled and advised by supervisory boards within the RWE group. These boards should include more women. Therefore, RWE together with FidAR, has set up a training programme. FidAR stands for "Women on Supervisory Boards" - and for successful work with more diversity: last year, its President Monika Schulz Strelow received the National Cross of Merit. In the interview she expressed her thoughts on diversity and about the project with RWE.
Mrs Schulz-Strelow, there are a lot of jokes about women in general. Are there also jokes about women on supervisory boards?
I am certain there are, however, I do not know any to tell you the truth. I only remember a quotation, because I sometimes use it: A well-known German manager joked some years ago that Supervisory Boards are no tea party. Nevertheless, we still shake each other’s hand. I find it significantly more serious when men’s small talk shows concern about bringing women into supervisory boards and to key positions in general. An influential journalist uncovered this recently. He showed that many men worry about their career. People with disabilities, people with a migrant background, older people and women are increasingly becoming more involved. This trend of diversity is not welcomed by everyone.
Why is diversity important for companies and society overall?
First of all some basics; when it comes to women in decision-making positions in the public debate, key words such as demographic change and skills shortages are often mentioned. I consider this to be simply wrong because it suggests ‘We want only women and diversity because we are running out of young men from middle-class German families’. Rather, it is correct that the monolithic male-dominated structures of the past barely represent the present, but they can in no way represent the future. More and more people are rejecting these structures. Companies that hold on to them are becoming less interesting for our rising stars
Which structures do you mean?
I mean the classic hierarchies in which decisions are passed on topdown. I am thinking in particular of the culture of presence in which people can perform, spending twelve hours a day in the office and being available to direct reports and customers. This must stop, because in the final analysis the only thing that counts is results. These depend on how efficiently we work every day. Companies must offer alternative models of work so that motivated women, and also men, can combine career and family. I would include RWE among the companies which have got rid of outdated structures. An example of this is our joint project to get more women onto the supervisory boards. This is showing the way forward and will have a generic effect.
What is this assessment based on?
In particular, there are two facts. Firstly, the company has numerous subsidiaries and is a shareholder of municipal utilities. Therefore, there will be opportunities to fill vacancies on supervisory boards from time to time with appropriate female candidates from their own ranks. Secondly, there is strong support for more diversity at RWE - with honest restraint in the Board of Directors. Peter Terium expressed his view at the FidAR forum last year, saying there was a gap between RWE and the outside world and this must be closed. The CEO pointed to a central role for diversity. The other men on the Board have already proved their genuine interest in the project
Workshops and training sessions are a central component of the project. What awaits the participants of the pilot group?
We are training 15 women in, inter alia, the rights and obligations of supervisory boards, controlling and risk management. In addition, we will provide the soft skills that are necessary for women in such positions.
Must women be prepared differently from men for posts on the supervisory boards?
Professionally, women and men have to become familiar with work topics in the same way, for example, plc company law and legislation. The tasks for a supervisory board are different to those of management. Moreover, members of a supervisory board are now personally liable for their decisions. So, in the past it was sometimes the case that people came to meetings without preparation, acted importantly and tried to pass the buck on to the chairman, however nowadays more and more this behaviour bears consequence
And how about soft skills?
Here I can see clear differences. Men take the key positions even if they are not compatible with their other tasks. Women, however, will consider the workload and their own qualifications. Technical brilliance and good preparation are not much help if they cannot be present at the meetings. Our training, among other things, also shows how women may gain respect and a listening ear in an established male network. We train for this, for example, by simulating meetings. We film the reactions and then analyse them in the group.
What is next, once the training is over?
We all agree, that is the stakeholders at RWE and ourselves, that we must support participants beyond the training. A lot of questions will arise along the way, which can only be answered individually. We are in the process of deciding on how we are going to go about this. The project is a pilot. The next round of the project will be built on the experience that we are gathering now.
"More women on supervisory boards". Joint project of RWE and FidAR
Under the auspices of CEO, Peter Terium, RWE launched a joint pilot project with FidAR e.V. in December 2013. RWE’s objective is to bring more women onto the supervisory boards of the Group’s subsidiary and affiliated companies. To support this objective, a training programme has been designed jointly with FidAR which is open to all female managers throughout the Group who are interested in preparing themselves for supervisory board positions. For the pilot phase, a pool was formed with more than 40 interested candidates who take part in the programme in three waves till the beginning of 2016. The training programme does not only provide energy policy background information, but also comprises specific training in law and compliance, taxation and accounting, HR management and codetermination, controlling as well as self-presentation. Most participants have meanwhile joined at least one supervisory board. After completion of the pilot phase at the beginning of 2016, the programme will be continued on a regular, but also demand-driven basis, offering training opportunities under the moderation of the Participation Management unit.