Press Releases

First Accelerate! Conference in Warsaw on Wednesday, 17th of June

| May 2015

Kick-off Accelerate! Conference in Warsaw on June 17th - PWN Warsaw is hosting the Accelerate! KICK-OFF CONFERENCE. It will see the presentation of the first results of the ‘Needs Analysis’ survey -5000 organisations will be surveyed in Poland -, and of the Polish “board-ready” women database. A brokerage session with representatives of boards of directors meeting candidates, both managers and women experts - ready to take board seats in companies -, will be also staged. Workshops on leadership and responsibility of board and supervisory board members complete the agenda of the day. [...]"

A unique survey of SMEs in Belgium and in Europe maps their governance and board requirements
| April 2015
"Accelerate! An EU-funded projects promoting women to boards of SMEs - The top-ranked EU-funded project ACCELERATE! complements existing EU action on gender-balanced boards by targeting specifically SMEs. The starting point: a highly innovative needs analysis questionnaire to map SME governance and board requirements, and their speicific needs. Next: dedicated tools developed for use by organisations wishing to accelerate women’s access to board positions in SMEs. [...]"
Accelerate! EU funds two year project to complement their action promoting women’s access to boards and the media
| October 2014
"This  year’s  Women’sForum  in  Deauville  will  see  the  kick-­‐off  of  Accelerate!, the  top‐ranked EU‐funded  project  supporting  women  as  they  accessseats  on  boards  and in  the  media. Accelerate! is  run  by  the  SofiaFoundation (Societal  Organisation  for  Feminine  Impact  and  Achievement),  a   Brussels‐based   non‐profit   researching   and   accelerating women’s  participation  in  economic,  political  and  social  governance across  Europe [...]"


Why is there specific action for more gender balance on the boards of listed companies, as well as SMEs, public companies & NGO’s  at EU level?

Demand for senior female executives in large corporates should be on the up. Women make up an increasingly powerful economic lobby, which includes key decision-makers on consumer purchases, an increasing number of main breadwinners, and the majority of highly qualified graduâtes across the globe. The tide is turning in terms of the feminisation of stakeholder influence on large corporates. But things don't seem to be playing out as the simple law of supply and demand would suggest. Demand remains patchy. The majority of organisations seem to be anchored in the belief that 25 to 30% female representation will provide sufficient diversity in the boardroom to sustain corporate success. This is why the European Commission has proposed legislation for more gender balance on the Boards of listed companies. This is an area where they can legislate. And indeed, recent figures show: countries which have implemented – or are implementing – laws to bring more women into Boards show clear progress: the number of women Board members is increasing! We complement the Commission’s move at the level of corporate listed companies with action targeting specifically the Boards of SMEs, public companies, not-for-profit organisations and NGOs

Why does the Accelerate! project focus specifically on SMEs? 

As said, the proposed legislation of the European Commission only targets the EU’s listed companies. Reading  the daily news, it is easy to get the impression that the European economy is dominated by large, multinational enterprises. Their multi-billion Euro takeovers, global expansion plans or -more recently- risks of mega bankruptcies dominate the headlines. What usually gets lost is that more than 99% of all European businesses are, in fact, SMEs .They provide two out of three of the private sector jobs and contribute to more than half of the total value-added created by businesses in the EU. Moreover, SMEs are the true back-bone of the European economy, being primarily responsible for wealth and economic growth, next to their key role in innovation and R&D.  To provide some figures:

1. There are 20 million enterprises, over 99% of which are SMEs (i.e., having less than 250 occupied persons). Within the SME sector, the vast majority (92%) are micro enterprises, having less than 10 occupied persons. 

2. About two-third of total employment in the private sector is found in SMEs. Micro-firms (who have on average 2 employees) employ 30% of the total private labour force.

3. Micro enterprises appear to have a propensity to invest that is significantly above the average of the non-financial business economy.

4. In a globalizing economy, with large incumbent firms outsourcing and off-shoring production and jobs to low cost locations, SMEs are an important source of job creation.

5. SMEs serve as the key mechanism facilitating knowledge spill-over.

Bearing in mind the European definition of an SME (it employs less than 250 people, has an annual turnover of less than 50 million € and balance sheet total of less than 43 million €), it seems that the three most 'popular' subsectors for starters are to be found in the services sector: -Research and development; -Computer and related activities; - and Real estate activities. Two other subsectors are showing a high percentage of starters (post & telecom, and electricity, gas and hot water supply). These subsectors have a high score only as a consequence of privatisation processes.

Consider that there are only 5000 listed companies across the EU. Europe’s SME sector is larger, and so much more vibrant and dynamic. Many SMEs expand into the global market. Most of them need Board members with specific expertise. Tapping into a larger pool of talent and expertise for their non-executive Board positions makes good business sense.

What about non-profit organisations and NGOs?  Why focus on those too?

Because, like SMEs, these organisations represent the socio-economic fabric of Europe.

There are more than 10 million non-for-profit in Europe at national and at international level:  they are key for Europe’s economic, social and territorial cohesion.  Their activities are not limited to the charitable mission of mending the deficiencies of the liberal economy. The development of non-profit projects are important dynamics to be respected. The economic involvement of non-profit organisations carries a different enterprise culture, social added value and participatory traditions that represent European values. And remember: non-profit organisations are major actors in shaping EU policy developments, representing the interests of civil society with the EU institutions.

Like corporate companies, non-profit organisations and NGOs perform better when they include the best people who come from a range of perspectives and backgrounds on their Boards.

What are the innovative aspects of the Accelerate! project?

First: we do not only target listed companies in Europe, but a broad range of socio-economic actors in Europe, helping them to build diverse Boards. As we know since the financial crisis in 2008/2009: diversified and gender balanced Boards perform better.

Second: we work with women from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Our focus goes well beyond women with MBAs or women lawyers, although they are trusted partners too. We just want to broaden the scope.

Third: we combine the topic of more women on Boards with more women experts in the media. Both are interrelated. They are the two sides of the same coin. More women experts visible in the media  will contribute to overturning stereotypes, and to bringing more women into Boards.

Fourth: we create tools to map the needs of SMEs across Europe with regard to their Boards. How are they composed? What specific knowledge and expertise will they needs that match their business strategy – present and future?

Fifth: we publish a how-to toolkit for other organisations wishing to start processes to help promote more qualified women to Boards ; and a unique brokerage process to match organisations with talented women candidates for Boards.

Sixth: we offer a tested process for organisations wishing to campaign on women and media; and briefing documents as well as solid professional development activities for women aiminng for more visbility in the public arena, especially in the media.  

What are the tangible outputs expected from the “Women on Boards” activities strand of Accelerate! ?

As stated above: we will provide practical tools for organisations wishing to bring more women into Boards. This includes a needs analysis questionnaire to map the Board requirements of SMEs and non-profit organisations; briefing documents, checklists, and templates for organisations wishing to  create «Women on Board» lists or databases; and a unique, tested  process for connecting SMEs and non-profits with qualified women during «brokerage» events.

What is Accelerate!’s specific ambition regarding women experts in the media?

We want to bring highly qualified women experts into the information media. In the 21st century women are represented in a wide variety of disciplines and industries, including the traditionally male-dominated ones. But we don’t yet see enough women as panellists in policy debates, or experts in news on-air, online, and in print. Across the world, as global research illustrates, men are over-represented as editorialists, as experts quoted in newspapers, and as TV and radio programme guests: 80% as opposed of a mere 20% women. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality in Vilnius this lack of exposure of women as subject matter experts to the media not only contributes to perpetuating stereotypes about their competencies in decision-making roles and in economic governance. The 'stereotype threat' is responsible for knocking the self-confidence of women, damaging their ambition. We want to see more smart, self-confident women in the public arena – women who, moreover, can act as role models other women can emulate.

How will women benefit from  “Women in the Media” activities strand of Accelerate!?

We identify women with specific expertise across a broad range of areas: women working in corporates, highly successful entrepreneurs, wonderful researchers, dedicated artists… and we support them in accessing information media across Europe. Whenever possible, we will support them: with webinars to hone public speaking skills, for example, or briefing documents on presenting with impact, and a how-to-guide to build their profile as an expert by effectively using social media. It’s very hands-on. We will target the media too: they should not just inform about our initiative; the must commit to  put more women into the frame in their newspapers, and radio or TV shows. We will start a Europe-wide campaign later this year. Organisations interested to join us will be able to download a campaign toolkit from our website.

By the way: identifying female experts and panellists, encouraging them to speak, giving them exposure to programme and newspaper editors, is not just a matter of equality. It will bring fresh perspectives and new voices to our increasingly complex societal, political, and scientific debates, and help the media to remain relevant for their multiple audiences (which are 50% female).

What are Accelerate! highlights & events in Brussels and in other European countries?

We organize a series of international conferences until autumn 2016 focusing either on women on Boards, or on women in the media. We kick off in Warsaw in early summer this year, followed by large-scale events in Milan and Lisbon.  And we will run three project conferences in Brussels. All events, which bring together policy decision-makers, economic actors, and opinion shapers, are dedicated to our overall aim: to accelerate women’s access to Boards and to the information media.

Why action on balanced boards right now? Is this still timely?

More than ever. Once adopted, the new EU legislation for gender balance on the Boards of listed companies has to be implemented by EU member states by 2020. Large corporate companies will be looking for female Board members. And this will inevitably have a spill-over effect on SMEs, public and semi-public companies, and the non-profit sector.

On another note: the European Commission are currently working on their proposal for the EU’s post 2015 strategy on gender equality. This will include a hard look at the fact that improvements in the economy globally and within the EU are highlighting weaknesses in member state economies and increasingly exposing skills shortages, while continuing globalisation makes urgent the need to ensure that the EU is fully developing and thus utilising the potential of its workforce to improve its competitive position. This means including measures to support access of highly qualified women to the labour market, including to senior management and decision-making positions, encouraging  work-life balance, improving talent management and talent retention.

And let’s not forget the United Nation’s « HeforShe» campaign on gender equality to address discriminiation and inequalities faced by women and girls worldwide. What is unique is its involvement of men. The movement  for gender equality is no longer considered a struggle led by women for women. This is an exciting development and creates new momentum.

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