Düsseldorf Executives who share a position, Nicole Engenhardt-Gillé considers “forward-looking”. The judgment of the Federal Labor Court, according to which bosses must record the working time, on the other hand, “rather for retrograde”. On January 1, the 54-year-old will become the first female board member of the telecommunications group Freenet with a firm opinion on current personnel issues.
As the Handelsblatt has learned in advance, the previous head of human resources is moving up to the previously purely male board. The manager will be responsible for the approximately 3,800 employees of the MDax Group as well as ESG issues in the then six-member management team headed by CEO Christoph Vilanek.
The telecommunications provider without its own network is thus the first of the “defaulting seven” from the Dax and MDax to have responded to the pressure of the legislature. Since August 2021, a quota of women on the Board of Management has been in effect for companies that are traded on the stock exchange and are equally co-determined. From four members, a woman must belong to it.
In August 2022, the one-year grace period for listed companies with more than 2000 employees expired. Any further appointment of a man for the top management circle is now invalid as long as a woman is missing.
However, the appointment of Engenhardt-Gillé is also an important signal to the Freenet workforce, which consists of about a third of women, and to external female talents. Supervisory Board Chairman Marc Tüngler, who has only been in office since May 2022, has accelerated the search for a suitable candidate and has favored an internal appointment.
Engenhardt-Gillé has been working for Freenet in various management roles for 22 years. “A development up to the top is possible with us,” says Tüngler.
The lawyer has been responsible for various areas of the Group from law to investment management, and her rise to the management level seems logical. She is convinced that the additional task of ESG justifies a sixth board position. When she describes what it was like when she was offered this position, she puts her hand on her heart and says: “I was excited for a moment, but didn’t need any time to think about accepting this opportunity.“
Other companies, on the other hand, are still lagging behind with the appointment of their first female board member, such as the engine manufacturer MTU and the pharmaceutical and laboratory supplier Sartorius. Although the forklift manufacturer Kion, the specialty chemicals group Lanxess and the reinsurer Munich Re have each had a woman in their top management, their female successors are currently not forthcoming.
The largest German outdoor advertising marketer Ströer, where Freenet CEO Vilanek is Chairman of the Supervisory Board, reduced the Board of Management, which had meanwhile grown to four members, back to three and thus bypassed the quota of women.
New Freenet Board MEMBER relies on fresh ideas
At Freenet, on the other hand, the Supervisory Board and the Management Board focus on diversity. In addition, climate-neutral management is to be achieved by 2030 at the latest. Many things, whether the company car fleet or the electricity demand in the office buildings, have to do with Engenhardt-Gillé’s area, human resources.
For example, during the modernization of the Büdelsdorf headquarters, where mainly colleagues from IT work, she only set up flexible workplaces for seven or eight out of ten employees, depending on the requirements of the department.
The manager, who is strongly committed as a mentor for young people inside and outside the group, also wants to try out new ideas in order to fight against the shortage of skilled workers and to meet the desire of the workforce for more working time flexibility. In addition to the realization of the job sharing idea, she can also imagine that in the approximately 500 Freenet shops on Saturdays only repairs are accepted, but no mobile phone or TV contracts are sold anymore.
The new CEO herself works one to two days a week away from the company headquarters. On Wednesdays, for example, she can never be found there. Then she takes the opportunity for mobile work and handles confidential conversations, “during which my office door would remain closed anyway,” she says.
Without the time-consuming commute, the manager also has more time for reading her fantasy books, for yoga or cardio exercises – and for her flock of chickens, which she and her husband have been keeping in the garden since this year.