Idoia Iturbe

Economía global

Executive women, equality, a century long walk ahead?

For some, women are better CEOs … and for others the world is a century behind gender equality


As we celebrate the International Women’s Day I would like to share a quote I recently read in an interview with Kevin O’Leary, American entrepreneur and investor who claimed that “women are better CEOs. On equal terms, given the choice between a woman and a man I choose woman”


And as a proof in recent years, he has decided, based on pragmatic financial data, to invest in companies where women were in charge. And today about 60 percent of his portfolio are companies run by women.


But what is the reality when we look at international statistics?


A recent study shows that major companies in Asia, Europe and the US have advanced little beyond mere tokenism when it comes to placing women in leadership positions. Men hold 83% of executive positions within major US companies, 89% in European companies, and gender balance was even worse in Asia and the Middle East, where men occupy 96 % of senior positions. In these three regions combined, women hold only 11% of the 3,000 seats on the executive committees of the 300 companies surveyed (100 largest companies in each region).


And, what is the situation in Spain?


19.83 % of the members of the Ibex 35 companies’ boards are women. It is true that represents a 13.75% increase from last year but we are still halfway to the percentage of 40 % that European standards of Good Governance dictate.



While countries such as Sweden, where 35.6% of senior managers are women and 10% are chief executive, in Spain parity experts complain that “The scarcity of executive directors (3.3% of the total) denotes the need for a cultural change to promote the development of women in all management positions”


Now that these figures took us back to reality, my question is what do investors and businessmen like Kevin O’Leary or Richard Branson see in executive women and what do their reliable financial analyzes reflect?


“I have invested in 20 different new tech companies and have made more money with women executives. It’s that simple,” said the American businessman.


He explains that it has been observed that women take fewer risks, and are more result oriented. And those results have led to claim that “When I am facing two opportunities with similar characteristics and the CEO is a woman, I tend to pick that option first because it’s the path of least resistance. I’m not looking at it from a social or moral point of view; I’m looking at it from a financial return point of view ”



But taking less risk is looked upon favorably in the business world? Apparently the statistics support his observations. A report by Credit Suisse, in which even Richard Branson has relied on several occasions, says women in leadership roles provided better returns for companies being more analytical and less risky and volatile. The report cites that companies listed on stock markets and with more than one woman on their boards of management companies have surpassed in profitability those who had no female presence and reveals that companies dominated by men were recovered more slowly from the 2008 financial crisis than those with a more balanced gender ratio.


Obligation or acceptance?


Some consider that the requirements and punishments (“listed companies in Europe will be forced to reserve at least 40 percent of their executive positions to women by 2020 or face fines and other sanctions”) the European Commission is preparing are not the right way while others say that until equality and parity are normalized it should be demanded.



Society should recognize the fact that there are different leadership skills in women who are equally beneficial to societies, economies and politics. Nelson emphasized “collaboration, conviction, inclusion, creativity and mentoring” were unique key female leader features, even though some pretend to make women who want to increase their positions in leadership believe that the key is knowing how and when to turn on the “male switch” within each woman (a study published by Stanford that has been not taken seriously and even criticized).


The key would therefore be how to find that magic formula with which everyone is in equilibrium valuing the diversity of capabilities and benefits of both genders without falling into the error of believing that the only implicit advantage of reaching a goal of equality is simply to reach the goal of equality.


But it seems that the mysteries of the universe will be discover before the mysteries of equality. For though countries like Iceland, Sweden and Denmark are close to totally eliminate the gap in the international disparity; and businessmen assert that “it is a big disadvantage not to lead women to management positions, not for the benefit of equality and diversity, but for the benefit of business”, studies estimate that men and women will not be equal until the year 2095.



Experiencias, curiosidades y reflexiones sobre internacionalización, emprendimiento y liderazgo.

Sobre el autor

Nómada impulsora de la internacionalización; innovadora y global al tiempo que cercana y comprometida; emprendedora, fundadora de Globalik Business Group, profesora de Deusto Business School. // A pro-internationalization millennial nomad; global and innovative while personable and committed; entrepreneur, founder of Globalik Business Group and lecturer at Deusto Business School.

marzo 2016