Nicole Engenhardt-Gillé: Freenet gets its first board member

Nicole Engenhardt Gillé

The manager has worked for Freenet in various management roles for 22 years.

(Photo: Freenet)

Dusseldorf Nicole Engenhardt-Gillé considers executives who share a position to be “forward-looking”. The judgment of the Federal Labor Court, according to which bosses must record working hours, is “rather backwards”. On January 1, the 54-year-old with a firm opinion on current HR issues will become the first female board member at the telecommunications group freenet.

As the Handelsblatt learned in advance, the previous head of HR is moving up to the board, which has previously been exclusively male. The manager will be responsible for the approximately 3,800 employees of the MDax group and for ESG issues in the then six-strong management team around CEO Christoph Vilanek.

The telecommunications provider without its own network is the first the “defaulting seven” from Dax and MDax, which has responded to pressure from the legislature. Since August 2021, companies that are listed on the stock exchange and have equal co-determination have had a quota of women on the executive board. If there are four or more members, one woman must be included.

In August 2022, the one-year grace period for listed companies with more than 2,000 employees expired. Any further appointment of a man to the top management circle is now invalid as long as a woman is missing.

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The appointment of Engenhardt-Gillé is also an important signal to the freenet-Workforce, which is approximately one-third female, and external female talent. The head of the supervisory board, Marc Tüngler, who has only been in office since May 2022, pushed ahead with the search for a suitable candidate and favored an internal appointment.

Engenhardt-Gillé has worked for Freenet in various management roles for 22 years. “It’s possible for us to develop right up to the top,” says Tüngler.

>> Read the full report here: The women’s quota for board members will be binding – these companies must act now

The lawyer has been responsible for various areas of the group, from law to investment management, and her rise to management level seems logical. She is convinced that the additional task of ESG justifies a sixth position on the board. Describing what it was like to be offered the position, she puts her hand to her heart and says, “I was excited for a moment, but didn’t need to think twice to accept this opportunity.”

Other companies, on the other hand, are still lagging behind when it comes to filling their first female board member, such as the engine manufacturer MTU and the pharmaceutical and laboratory suppliers Sartorius. The forklift manufacturer kionthe specialty chemicals company Lanxess and the reinsurer Munich Re have each had a woman in their top management, but their female successors are still a long time coming.

The largest German outdoor advertising marketer Ströerin which Freenet CEO Vilanek is the chairman of the supervisory board, reduced the board of directors, which had meanwhile grown to four members, back to three and thus bypassed the women’s quota.

New Freenet board member relies on fresh ideas

At Freenet, on the other hand, the Supervisory Board and Management Board focus on diversity. In addition, the aim is to be climate-neutral by 2030 at the latest. A lot, whether it’s the fleet of company cars or the power requirements in the office buildings, has to do with Engenhardt-Gillé’s Human Resources department.

For example, during the modernization of the Büdelsdorf headquarters, where mainly colleagues from IT work, she only set up flexible workstations for seven or eight out of ten employees, depending on the requirements of the department.

The manager, who is heavily involved as a mentor for young people inside and outside the group, also wants to try out new ideas to combat the shortage of skilled workers and to meet the workforce’s desire for more flexible working hours. In addition to realizing the job-sharing idea, she can also imagine that the around 500 Freenet shops only accept repairs on Saturdays, but no longer sell mobile phone or TV contracts.

The new board member works one to two days a week away from the company headquarters. On Wednesdays, for example, she is never to be found there. Then she uses the opportunity to work remotely and conduct confidential calls “where my office door would remain closed anyway,” she says.

Without the hassle of commuting, the manager also has more time to read her fantasy books, to do yoga or cardio exercises – and for her flock of chickens, which she and her husband have been keeping in the garden since this year.

More: Haribo, Aldi, Vorwerk: 68 of the 100 largest family businesses have no women on the board

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