Female leadership in Spain and the USA

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - 09:30

According to the Global Talent Competitiveness Index, published by the Adecco human resources group just a few weeks ago, Spain places 112th out of the 125 countries assessed in terms of executive opportunities for women. This means that Spain finds itself near the bottom of the world when it comes to offering executive positions to women. On the 31st of January, with the aim of bringing a serious social problem to the table and shining a light on the so-called glass ceiling, TBS Business School in Barcelona and the Woman Forward Foundation held a seminar on the status of female leadership on corporate boards in Spain and the USA.

The Bailén campus welcomed the event's attendees and speakers, including Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire, CEO of the American association 2020 Women on Boards. It was her first time visiting Spain and she opened proceedings with a speech about the gender composition of boards of directors in the United States and the tools needed to increase the number of women in executive positions. Berkhemer-Credaire hails from Los Angeles, where Californian legislation requires companies to appoint at least one woman to their boards of directors, making the state the first in the U.S. to adopt binding measures.

“Since last year, 183 women have been appointed to boards of directors in California,” the American executive explained. According to Berkhemer-Credaire, the solution lies precisely in adding new seats in the upper echelons in a way that does not exclude existing directors but ensures female talent is retained and greater diversity is created. “No company is interested in having a board photo made up entirely of white men,” she added. An opinion that was shared by Mirian Izquierdo, president of the Woman Forward Foundation, a non-profit institution that promotes female leadership by increasing the participation of women in the decision-making spheres of the social and economic fields.

“For there to be a critical mass that is really listened to, it is necessary for at least 30% of the board to be women. This is what we call a gender quota,” said Izquierdo. Unlike California, the Spanish regulations opt for a “soft-law quota” that proposes recommendations without establishing penalties in the event of non-compliance. Specifically, the Equality Law of 2007, which recommends in Article 75 that it will be necessary to “include a number of women on the Board of Directors that will enable a balanced presence of women and men to be achieved over a period of eight years from the entry into force of this Law.” In other words, by 2015 parity at the highest levels of business should already have been a reality, but the current data still leaves a lot to be desired.

To reduce this inequality, the National Stock Market Commission (CNMV) prepared the Code of Good Governance for Listed Companies in 2015, which calls for board members to be at least 30% female by 2020. A figure that the European Union has increased to 40%. Spain, however, is still a long way from reaching this target, lagging behind countries that have opted to impose a minimum percentage for women on boards, such as Norway, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy. Nevertheless, the president of Woman Forward stressed that there has been continuous progress in recent decades, especially in tackling the pay gap: “Women went from 21.9% less than men in 2017 to receiving 13.5% less in 2019.”

The tools for progress are many and they are not always linked to gender quotas, but rather to the commitment of the companies themselves to improving the situation surrounding female executives. In this regard, the round table that closed the day, entitled “The value of diversity on boards: proposals and training for improvement” and moderated by Wafa Khlif, a professor at TBS in Barcelona, focused on this issue. The participants were Jaime Grego, managing partner at Advisory Board Architects, Javier Beneyto, director of Robert Allen, and Àngels Roqueta, partner at Compas Private Equity & Compas Professional Expertise and board member at Bank Degroof Petercam Spain SAU.

The Woman Forward gender diversity index

Woman Forward produces its own gender diversity index to assist companies with the preparation of their annual corporate governance reports and to contribute to the improvement of their diversity policies. This enables companies to compare themselves with others in their field, sector and geographical area through their gender diversity score. It also provides an equal opportunities diagnosis that lets companies know their situation so they can devise an equality plan. With the data obtained, the foundation prepares the “Think-tank report to promote effective equality between men and women and the creation of value in companies” and rewards those that are most committed and can serve as an example and model for other companies.

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