“Committing to diversity increases the competitiveness of companies, and we need to be able to recognise this.” This was one of the main conclusions expressed by Stella Mally, Partner at Women’s Economy Europe, at the first session of ESADE’s series of events on diversity, entitled "Diversity on Boards of Directors and Management Committees". The other speakers featured at this session were board members María Luisa Jordá and Abel Linares; Marieta Jiménez, President and General Manager of Merck Spain; and Mario Lara, Director of the ESADE-PwC Programme for Board Members. The speakers discussed gender diversity, its impact on business competitiveness, and the keys to helping women gain access to high-level corporate governance bodies. “Spanish companies continue to believe that diversity is ‘expensive’, but there can be no return without prior investment,” argued Ms. Mally. “Diversity means counting the numbers, while inclusion means making the numbers count.”
In Ms. Mally’s view, the concept of inclusion is crucial: “We have to work towards a sensitive business culture where gender diversity is part of the strategy and where all members of the company help create the return it provides.” She added: “Let’s start with the main governance bodies. We have to recruit talent from outside our contact network. We also need to establish goals and phases, as well as measure progress, parity, culture and leadership.” Ms. Mally continued: “None of this will be possible, however, if we don’t first eliminate biases and prejudices, increase the visibility of professional women in all areas and positions, and do away with the salary gap.”
Salary and digital gap
Mario Lara, Director of the ESADE-PwC Programme for Board Members, acted as moderator of the debate. In addition the salary gap, Mr. Lara noted, there is also a technology gap. “The digital gap is a serious threat to women’s progress towards upper management,” he explained. “Senior management positions with the highest ratios of women are often linked to the fields of law, human resources, quality and marketing. The ratio is much lower in fields related to more technical sectors.”
“In the coming years, there will be more than a million new jobs in the tech field,” commented María Luisa Jordá, an independent board member at Bimbo, Orange Spain and Merlin Properties. “It is fundamental to encourage girls to get training in technical fields, and companies, meanwhile, should invite them to develop their managerial skills,” she argued. “This strategy is impossible to implement if we don’t have the full support of families, society and especially boards and management committees.” She added: “We have to force ourselves to include women in the selection processes and let them compete on equal terms with men at all levels.”
Abel Linares, board member at Adveo and Catenon, commented: “We have a very profound problem. Whenever a board member or executive leaves and we initiate a selection process, we look for a someone with a similar profile to the person who left. By doing that, we perpetuate the presence of men in decision-making positions and we incorporate profiles that are not new and do not generate debate.”
“The presence of women on boards and management committees remains a problem in Spain,” commented Marieta Jiménez, President and General Manager of Merck Spain. “We have a huge responsibility to our young people to accelerate this progression as much as possible. Personally, I am pleased that companies are developing active policies to make sure women do not encounter barriers on the path to positions of greater responsibility and because lawmakers are also playing a major role in passing legislation to promote these active policies.”
Enrique Verdeguer, Director of ESADE Madrid, delivered the opening remarks at this debate session on the keys to ensuring women’s access to boards and management committees. This is the first in a series of sessions that will examine the importance of diversity in the business world from various perspectives, including international, social and cultural diversity.