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  Bumping Up Against a Glass Ceiling on Spanish Boards 

Atrevia; ICWF - Centro Internacional Trabajo y Familia
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Women are slowly gaining seats on the boards of Spain's biggest companies, but their relative representation is still 3 percentage points below the European average.

This gradual progress is documented in the fifth annual report on women on IBEX 35 boards of directors, produced by IESE's International Research Center for Women in Leadership and Atrevia.

This latest report confirms that, after a gain of nearly 14 percent last year, the growth rate has stalled: 2017 started off with a 1.1 percent climb, the lowest year-over-year increase so far this decade.

In total, female directors occupied 92 seats on the boards of the 35 public companies tracked by Spain's benchmark IBEX 35 index in February 2017 -- just one more seat than last year. Eight female directors serve on more than one board. Women currently hold 20.3 percent of all board positions for these large companies -- three points behind the European average of 23.3 percent.

Naming Names

Seven of the IBEX 35 companies appointed women to their boards over the past year -- most notably the toll-road manager Abertis and the real estate investor Merlin Properties, which brought on two apiece. At the same time, last year's new incorporations to the benchmark index are companies with only two, one or zero women on their boards.

In fact, new incorporation Cellnex Telecom has zero women in its highest governing body -- a backward step from the milestone seen early in 2016, when all IBEX 35 companies had at least one female director.

At the other end of the index's spectrum, Abertis had the most gender-balanced board, with six women and seven men. The banking group Santander also had six women, while electricity provider Iberdrola and Merlin Properties had five each.

Denise Kingsmill, board member for IAG and Inditex, is one of eight women serving on multiple IBEX-35 boards.

Who and Where Are the Women?
Among female board members, there is increasing international presence: 23 are from outside Spain, compared with 18 last year. The United States and Argentina have the highest representation with five female board members each.

The number of female independent directors has risen to 78 percent of the total, while those representing major shareholders slipped to 13 percent of the total.

Some 36 percent of female board members have studied economics (13), business sciences (or, business administration) (10), or have degrees in both these fields (10).

Only three women chair their boards (no change from last year): Ana Botín of Santander, María Dolores Dancausa of Bankinter and Vanisha Mittal of ArcelorMittal. But the number of women occupying the role of lead independent director -- a role required when the CEO and the chair of the board are the same person -- has climbed from three to five in one year.

Catching up With Europe
Despite slow progress, IBEX 35 companies are catching up with the European average of 23.3. This year's three-point gap is less than the 3.5 points seen in 2016 and 4 points in 2015.

The report also notes that only four companies (Abertis, Santander, Red Eléctrica and Grifols) currently meet the European Commission's recommendation that at least 40 percent of non-executive directors should be women. Looking at that shortfall, plus the scarcity of women heading up the boards, suggests more change in business culture is needed for true gender diversity.

Methodology, Very Briefly
The report analyzes female representation on the boards of the 35 companies listed in the IBEX 35 as of February 2017. The data comes from Spain's National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) and the websites of the listed companies.
This article is based on:  Quinto informe de las mujeres en los Consejos del IBEX-35
Publisher:  Atrevia
Year:  2017
Language:  Spanish