Five out of ten female managers do not think the equality plans are working

The 2023 Esade Gender Monitor outlines the changes in gender equality over the last few years. The vast majority of women in management positions consider that they are still not being treated equally to men

Eugenia Bieto
Patricia Cauqui

In the last decade, society has made progress in gender equality. Nevertheless, this progress tends to fade when the spotlight is put on high-ranking positions, especially in the business world. At present, 83,9% of female managers believe they are not treated equally to men, while almost half of them consider that the equality plans designed to correct this situation are not having the effect they hoped for. 

These are the findings of the 2023 Esade Gender Monitor, as presented by its director, Eugenia Bieto, and the academic director of gender balance programs at Esade, Patricia Cauqui. This study, conducted in Spain, set out to interview 1,000 female managers, most of whom were aged between 40 y 59, with 2 or more children, and working for companies with more than 250 employees.  

At present, 76.5% of the companies where the women surveyed work have an Equality Plan in place. However, nearly half of those interviewed (44.2%) have not noted any change since it was applied in their company. It is worth remembering that equality plans in Spain, which were established by decree-law in 2019, became mandatory for companies with more than 50 employees in March 2022. Since the survey was conducted only a few months after the mandatory requirement (between January and February 2023), its authors are confident that the equality plans will bring positive changes in the future. 

The authors are confident that the equality plans will bring positive changes in the future

Overall, the context in which this report was produced differs greatly from that of the first edition in 2016. Back then, 90% of the female executives surveyed worked face to face, whereas today 76% work in a hybrid format. The combination of working face to face and remotely, largely demanded in order to achieve a work-life balance and to favor equality, has gathered momentum in the last few years due to the pandemic.  

In the course of these 7 years, there has also been a considerable change in the perception of gender equality. In 2016, 65% of respondents said that their company regarded gender balance as “a women’s problem” or a “trend”, but by 2023, this percentage had fallen to 23%.  

There has also been an important shift in opinion with regard to support for gender quotas. Just a few years ago, 8 out of every 10 women were against quotas. Today, the tables have turned and 6 out of every 10 are in favor. This is one of the key conclusions to be drawn from the report, since half of the respondents admit they have changed their opinion on this matter.  

Only 1 out of every 5 CEOs is a woman 

41.5% of those surveyed say that their company is above average in gender equality, and this percentage rises to 71.2% in the case of female-led companies. However, only 1 out of every 5 companies that took part in the Esade Gender Monitor has a female CEO.  

In this respect, the report identifies the main barriers faced by female executives in their professional career. The most frequent barrier mentioned is unconscious bias (44.7%), followed by difficulties in achieving a work-life-family balance (29.6%), and the lack of acknowledgement regarding the work they do (23.2%). Only three out of every ten women say they have not encountered any barrier to their development. 

Equality, diversity and inclusion will not take root without a sustained commitment from senior management

A key issue is senior management's lack of involvement in questions of equality. In general, a CEO who is involved in equality is only found in 17.9% of cases, a percentage that rises to 30.5% in those cases in which the CEO is a woman. “The starting point for equality, diversity and inclusion lies in a profound cultural change which will not take root across an organization without a clear, sustained commitment from senior management,” Bieto and Cauqui declare, repeating a warning sounded in previous reports.  

Reasons for promoting equality? 

Despite the fact that 76% of companies have an Equality Plan, only 11.3% of respondents say that their organization seeks a competitive advantage with gender equality measures. The authors of the report highlight this statistic “despite the considerable research that supports the benefits of employing women at every level of organizations.”  

While seeking a competitive advantage records a low score, attracting or retaining talent is the reason for promoting equality mentioned most (49.5%), followed by applying the culture and values of the company (44.52%). However, next in the order of reasons given are simply complying with the legal and regulatory framework (42.52%), and a pinkwashing strategy to improve the public image of the company (42.52%). 

Insufficient increase in support networks  

One of the deficiencies cited most by women aiming to reach high-ranking positions is the lack of informal, professional and personal support networks; this is highlighted by 64.6% of respondents. Even so, there is an upward trend in the number of women devoting time to this activity (although less than they would like), with figures rising from 58.7% in 2020 to 86.6% in 2022. At the same time, only 10.6% of those surveyed consider this pursuit part of their work and development, down from 19.1% two years earlier.  

At all events, around two of every three female executives say they do not have time to build support networks as a result of too many personal commitments. And who do they build this network with? Mainly with other professional women in a situation similar to their own (77%), followed by people outside their company who are well connected with the world of business and people they work together with (62%).  

Associations, the social agent valued most 

In issues of equality, there is a large gap between the involvement expected from some social agents and the degree of involvement ultimately noted. On a scale of 1 to 10, the women surveyed expect a level of involvement of 9.15 from companies and government; however, based on what is subsequently perceived, they score 5.4 and 5.6 respectively. Trade unions receive the lowest score: although expectations are set at 8.59, the results show a score of 4.28.  

On the other hand, women's professional associations are the most highly valued social agent, with expectations of 9.33 and an end result of 8.13. It is also worth noting that half the respondents collaborate with one or more associations or organizations that defend equality of opportunity for women. 

High hopes for the new generations  

Although very few (only 5.8%) believe that the new generations will find a world with genuine equality of opportunity, opinions about their capabilities and level of awareness are highly favorable.  

Most believe that future generations are more confident, determined and knowledgeable

To be specific, the executives surveyed think that women below the age of 30 have a greater belief in their own potential (64.5%), less tolerance of inequality (74.5%), a greater determination to achieve a work-life-family balance (84.3%), a greater awareness of their rights (76.8%), they are more demanding of their company on issues of equality (89.6%), and they are more active in the fight for gender equality (70.3%). 

Normalization, rather than forcing a balance  

Although the swing towards mandatory quotas is clear, the change that respondents want most is the normalization of what a person can do, regardless of their gender. Thus the measure rated highest (8.57 on a scale of 1-10) is the visibility of female role models in the media and the world of culture which help to establish a new perspective of women and their capabilities in society, followed by the normalization of care at home being provided by both members of the couple (8.47). 

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