Female leadership, challenges and opportunities

Liderazgo femenino
By Ana García Villas-Boas, partner at Madavi

In Spain, women represent only 19% of Management Committees and 11%  of Executive Committees, even if it has been proved that companies with a greater number of women in leadership positions achieve better results.

58% of university graduates in Spain are women, however this fact has not led to an increase in the number of women in leadership roles. The percentage of women in executive committees is 11% and far from the average of the European Union (15%). Without the incorporation of women into the labour market Spanish GDP in 2015 would have been 18% less. [1]

Several studies prove the positive correlation between the presence in leadership positions of women and financial and organizational performance.

In the same manner, several studies show that the presence of women improve the taking of decisions.

The presence of women seems to foment innovation and creativity, reduce conflicts and better  collaboration and loyalty. We find an example of this phenomenon in an investigation published in the Harvard Business Review [2]which points out that the collective intelligence of a group increased as the female representation did so.

The probabilities of promotion at all levels of a professional career are less for women.

The studies about women in leadership positions tend to concentrate on executive boards and committees but it is essential to examine the professional careers that have led to those positions. An investigation carried out in 47 companies, showed that the problem of the highest positions had their origin in the lowest ones, since women only represented 37 per cent of the workers hired. If one bears in mind that Spanish women represent 58% of university graduates this fact results even more alarming.

Spanish women who join a company have less possibilities of promotion than men at all levels. The men in the top managerial positions have four times more probabilities of becoming Managing Director.  These figures are similar to the European average.

The corporative obstacles, the cultural dynamics and the lifestyle are the principle factors that prevent the incorporation of Spanish women into positions of leadership.

Corporative Obstacles

Only 26% of Managing Directors state that diversity of gender as a priority. A visible and recurring  lack of compromise exists on the part of management. The lack of mentors and reference models to guide women and help them climb the corporative structure is another aspect related to corporative obstacles.

Cultural Dynamics and Lifestyle

In Spain women are responsible for the majority of household tasks. According to a study [3] nearly 60 per cent of Spaniards agreed with the idea that “ families are affected when women have a full time job” (compared to 33 per cent in other European countries [4]).  75% of executives admitted that Spanish companies expect practically total availability of their employees.

Women are principally responsible for household tasks; it is a work culture marked by absolute availability, and this fact implies that they have “two jobs”. In Spain, managers have to be available at all times; in fact, 81 per cent of managers interviewed agreed that the managing model of success in existence is that of “at any time, in any place”. Moreover, half of the employees interviewed said that children are incompatible with a top management job and that one has to choose between family life and a successful professional career

The digital transformation of society offers an opportunity in this sense. The flexibility that technology brings when it comes to choosing when and where to work could be of great benefit to men and women and impact positively on the ratios of employability.

Personal Attitude

Personal attitude does not seem to be, a priori, a large obstacle in Spain compared to other European countries. Spanish men and women show high levels of ambition: 70 per cent of women and 80 per cent of men wish to reach positions of top management. Moreover, 85 per cent of Spanish women are confident that they will succeed (compared to 90 per cent of men). These figures are considerably higher than the world average: only 58 per cent of women and 76 per cent of men) are confident of reaching positions of top management.

However, these facts change as Spanish women ascend. The difference in ambition between men and women, which are 10 percentage points at the beginning, rises to 12 percentage points once women reach intermediate positions. That is why we believe that aspects like confidence and resilience to make this possible should be reinforced by companies and by women themselves.

What style of leadership do companies need?

The style of leadership that companies require in a VUCA environment (Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) demands more abilities related to the feminine archetype, such as empathy, development of people, consensual decision taking, participation, collaboration and teamwork. The diversity and complementarity of the abilities of the masculine and feminine archetype lead to results of high achievement in business, as was mentioned above.

This situation offers the opportunity to contribute our feminine abilities in a masculine environment where the tendency of the female manager is to promote the abilities of the masculine archetype in order to be accepted by the system and the culture of the organization.

Women in Leadership

The program Women in Leadership of Madavi contributes a total change in the paradigm, by looking from  abundance instead of from scarcity, from that which we already have and which gives us life and works instead of from what we lack. The energy is different, it catapults us towards movement and development with a very high motivation to pass into action and change what is necessary.

The way program Women in Leadership is designed includes another factor, which is to work with collective intelligence. All the intelligences in the room co-creating jointly multiply the creativity of the innovative solutions which most sum. The final purpose of the program is to give women greater confidence and a network of support to reach out for their dream.



[1] Report McKinsey&Company, “Women Matter 2017, A way forward for Spain”

[2] Harvard Business Review, 2011. “Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women” 

[3] GESIS ISSP Research Group 2012, International Social Survey Programme: Familia y género IV – ISSP 2012. 

[4] Bélgica, Alemania, España, Portugal, Suecia, Noruega, Francia, Reino Unido.