Equal opportunity for women and men in European enterprises
Equal opportunity for women and men and the question of reconciling professional and family life constitute an important aspect of a company’s social sustainability. Three member organisations of a European network of responsible shareholders launched a campaign to contact companies they hold shares in for a status report concerning equality between women and men.
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Swedish and German laws concerning paid leave for parents go well beyond the Swiss. In Sweden the companies are even legally required to implement company regulations and concrete plans concerning equal opportunity for women and men, which is not the case in either Switzerland or Germany. Another reason for choosing different strategies is that there are different ways for minority shareholders to share their positions. This has to do with national legislation; however, beyond legislation, national traditions in economic life play an important role. For example, in Germany annual general meetings normally take about half a day, but even an entire day is not much of an exception. In almost every meeting there are questions raised by minority shareholders. Special back-office staff is ready for any ad-hoc research necessary, because giving (formally) correct answers is, by law and tradition, of great importance. This is the reason why questions are first collected, with a set of answers being given somewhere between 20 minutes and several hours later. In most other countries, like Switzerland and Sweden, general meetings proceed in a much more formal manner and interventions by minority shareholders occur only occasionally. It is no wonder then that organisations from different countries have different points of view concerning whether the annual general meeting is the appropriate place to bring forward issues of sustainability and social responsibility.