The Quotas Don't Add up

Strategies for women in business that work

06/02/2015 Barcelona

IESE Business School
“By nature, women have a broad capacity to understand both business and the human condition,” maintains Prof. Nuria Chinchilla / Photo: Javier Arias

Despite important progress in the incorporation of women into the labor market, women are still underrepresented in management and on boards of directors – a situation with potentially negative consequences.

“Women make 80 percent of buying decisions, so a smart company should pay attention to female managers,” said professor of Managing People in Organizations Nuria Chinchilla at the 5th Focused Program: Women on the Board of Directors event in Madrid.

The seminar was geared towards female managers who want to make an impact and create positive synergies on boards of directors. Chinchilla noted that women can make a difference across the financial, social and human aspects of companies. “By nature, women have a broad capacity to understand both business and the human condition,” she noted.

“Women have a lot to contribute to a board of directors. They can facilitate communication among members, favor consensus and contribute to a more complex vision of the business,” noted Rosa Piñol, manager of Abertis Telecom.

Good at listening, bad at being heard

Irma Jiménez, Hewlett Packard Director of Government and Corporate Affairs, agreed. She emphasized female board members’ listening skills: “They tend to be mediators who look for agreements. They work through collaboration rather than competition. Feminine intuition is a key asset for business,” she stated.

Sonia Chiva, CFO of the multinational Roland DG, noted that as well as being underrepresented on boards of directors, women were also frequently under-utilized: “Since we’re a minority, it’s hard to get other board members to trust us and give us a chance.” Chiva also claimed that women sometimes limited themselves from reaching the upper levels of an organization.

Quotas: a solution or a source of problems?

All three managers came out against legislated quota systems that would guarantee the presence of women on boards of directors. “I think that quotas can limit the development of both male and female talent. Quotas don’t actually fix the problem; instead they create bigger ones,” said Jiménez. “A woman should join a board because of her professionalism and because of what she can contribute to the business,” added Piñol.

According to professor Chinchilla, quotas are not good for companies. She noted that gender isn’t a valid reason for determining the role of a woman in the management of a business. “Quotas tie you to an indicator. And trying to improve things without looking at the causes of this indicator is not what we want. It can actually distort our vision of reality and worsen the problem,” she explained.

Participants in the seminar agreed that, beyond questions of gender, each board member should know his or her own strengths. “It’s a question of meritocracy. Women who sit on a board should get there because of their competence, not because they fulfill a legal requirement,” stated Sonia Chiva.

But changing the gatekeepers of senior management was flagged as a necessity: “It’s important for there to be at least one woman on selection committees for boards or managers, which is something that doesn’t happen now,” said Chinchilla.

IESE events for women executives

There will be three IESE activities in February addressed to female managers:

  • Women in Leadership, Madrid, February 11. Four women executives and entrepreneurs will explain what they gained from the MBA and talk about the challenges they face at work and in daily life.
  • Executive MBA Open Day, Barcelona, February 12. With special emphasis on the role that women play in management.
  • Women Leadership Panel, New York, February 19. Seven women, all senior managers, will describe their professional experiences. Issues addressed will include personnel management, the importance of networking, advice for standing out in a company and how to lead change successfully.

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