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Maria Helena de Felipe Lehtonen is an employment lawyer, and is also the founder/Director of AFAEMME, which was launched in 2002. AFAEMME comprises 36 women entrepreneurs’ organisations from 21 Mediterranean countries, and has its headquarters in Barcelona. This is a very powerful women’s network, each group has approximately 200 members.
She works very hard to continuously promote and facilitate the vital contributions women are able to make, in contributing to the stability, growth, and positive advancement of today’s global economy.
Maria Helena gained visibility at national and international level by joining several EU committees, networks, and boards, as well as by coordinating several transnational projects providing international reports on gender equality, gender stereotypes, and women in the ITCs. She works in collaboration with the European Commission, Chambers of Commerce in its representative countries, and various other networks, and as such, AFAEMME serves as a platform for international projects that promote gender equality in the marketplace.
As a result of her advocacy and entrepreneurial skills, at both national and international level, through AFAEMME, there has been a rise in women’s success in creating small businesses. Maria Helena says, “Women make very good small business owners. They are not generally risk-takers but they can multi-task better than men and make a good profit.”
in Catalonia, as President of the Catalan Businesswomen Association (Catalan Association of Business and Executive Women - ACEE), through free legal advice, motivational courses, and drafting business plans, approximately five hundred new companies have been set up by women.
Maria Helena notes that there a ever-present challenges for women in today’s world, “In the Mediterranean area, we have the religious stereotypes and, of course, there is inequality. The strange thing is that things appear to be going backwards. Ten years ago in Turkey, for example, men and women were seen as equal in the business arena, but the power has shifted in favour of men. In Egypt, 20 years ago, women didn’t wear the veil, but now they say it identifies them as Muslim women. I think, as a result of the Arab Spring, we will see more women losing their rights and their liberties and I keep saying to those women’s groups: go forward, not back.”
Maria Helena also raises important issues about the difficulties women face daily, in trying to maintain a ‘work / life’ balance. “Spain is not very productive. We work too many hours and are inefficient. Change is happening very slowly here and I don't know why. In Morocco, work finishes at 6.30pm. Here, (in Spain), it is much later. “
In Norway, thanks to positive discrimination, they now have 40 percent women on the boards of the best companies. In Spain’s IBEX companies, it is only 8 percent.
Gender Pay Gaps: In Spain the biggest pay gap exists in management positions (17%) where differences among salaries of women and men are bigger than in lower positions. Among the managerial positions, there are more differences in the case of Human Resources management (23.51%), followed by the Financial management (23.26%) and the General management (22.17%)