Trying Times: The Impact of the Crisis on Spain's Working WomenPublished: July 06, 2010
Two scholars whose research focuses on the role of women in the managerial world -- Mireia de la Heras, professor of personnel management at the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra, and Celia de Anca, professor of global diversity at the IE Business School -- spoke with Universia Knowledge@Wharton about the employment situation facing working women in Spain.
Universia Knowledge@Wharton: In your view, how has the crisis influenced the way women have made progress within corporations?
Mireia de Las Heras: Generally speaking, the crisis has had less impact on those sectors where women traditionally have a strong role, such as in the restaurant industry and personal services; workers without professional skills and credentials; public administrators, and educational staff. Nevertheless, the crisis has led companies to strengthen their patterns for taking action. Instead of searching for ways to work that are more flexible, creative and independent, they have focused on creating longer work days that are more controlled, and offer workers less space for creativity and independent contributions. Of course, in many cases, this has not had the desired effect of reducing costs and increasing productivity, but entirely the opposite effect.
Celia de Anca: Research shows that women are harmed the most because they have more precarious labor contracts, and they often get more prolonged leaves -- for example, for taking care of children and family members who are sick or dependent on them. Nevertheless, in this crisis and, specifically in Spain, it doesn't appear that this has been the case. This [crisis] is affecting everyone, with entire companies dismissing their work forces.
UK@W: Do you believe that the crisis affects women differently than it affects men, in terms of jobs?
De Las Heras: The crisis affects women in a different way. Many companies, instead of breaking their ties with those people who are less productive or are less committed to the product and the mission of the company, break their ties with people on the basis of their [number of] working hours, and make the terrible mistake of doing away with people who work part-time or under flexible conditions.
UK@W: According to a 2008 report by the trade unions Comisiones Obreras and UGT, Spanish women earn 27.7% less than men do. A report prepared by IESE and Adecco, the temporary employment agency, analyzed trends in the average salary in the European Union between 2003 and 2008. The report found that the salary gap between men and women dropped by 3.6 percentage points [over that period], from 38% [in 2003] to 34.4% [in 2008], but remained substantial. How would you explain the salary differential between men and women in the same jobs?
De Las Heras: The salary differential can be explained in various ways:
a) When they negotiate, women tend to prioritize flexibility [in their working conditions] and their personal [or career] development, rather than [higher] salary. As you know, when you establish one priority (for example, flexibility), the rest of the variables that you are negotiating about (such as salary) wind up at a lower level.
b) Women tend to occupy a larger number of staff positions (administration, systems management, research and development), even if they are at the same executive level as men. Staff positions tend to have lower salaries, no matter who holds them.
c) Generally speaking, it is much easier for men to "sell" their achievements to others. We women tend to share our contributions to an achievement with the other members of our team. So men are more forceful when it is time for them to evaluate their own [individual] contributions.
De Anca: Women usually make more applications for part-time workdays; and since their seniority is lower, this factor influences the salary they earn. In addition, they remain on the job for less time because they take maternal leaves and leaves without pay.
Inequality at work comes because it is women who are more often burdened with reconciling their work [with their personal lives]. When the two sexes equal out in that respect [in the future], their salaries will be equal.
UK@W: Is the difficulty of reconciling work and personal life a major issue still hanging over the future of this society?
De Las Heras: Yes, of course. In Spain, we are generating social poverty, which is the opposite of social capacity. In working to increase our economic status, we are casting aside social factors. Social capital comprises relationships involving friendships, affiliations and commitments that are made by people who contribute to a common project. And this is disappearing in the country as a result of the issues that remain to be resolved: flexibility in space and in working hours; in paternal and maternal leaves; and in various ways of working and contributing. So long as we do not resolve these issues, we will continue to be the European country that lags furthest behind in terms of productivity; [the country that] has the greatest number of work weeks, the lowest birth rates and lowest academic performance rates among children; has alarming rates of academic failure; and has high rates of obesity and stress among children. All of this could be prevented if parents spent more time -- and did a better job -- with their children.
UK@W: What qualities and added value can a female manager offer when it comes to managing a company under current conditions?
De Anca: Women are usually quite good in areas of entrepreneurialism -- with creativity and development and, above all, in small companies. There is a strong tradition of women starting new businesses in times of crisis.
These days, there is a lot of demand from women who ask for micro-loans through associations such as Omega (the Organization of Business Women and Active Management), and Aseme (the Spanish Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Madrid), in order to create new businesses that manage to keep society moving forward.
De Las Heras: We can confirm that the economic contribution of women is much more necessary nowadays than ever, since women have a global vision that enables them to be more open to the unknown, without being influenced by prejudices -- [an] ability that is so necessary for contributing value in times of trouble like today.