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Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Feature: Spain's glass ceiling shows signs of cracking

LONG WAY BEHIND Women sit on the boards of 4 percent of Spain's top companies, compared with the EU average of 8.5 percent and the US average of nearly 15 percent


Tatiana Del Arroyo says she was well qualified for an entry-level quality-control job at the food company where she was interning, but was warned by a male superior that she shouldn't bother applying.

The company hired women only for menial jobs, he said.

That was just eight years ago in a Spain that has greatly modernized since joining the EU in 1986 but is struggling to transform relations between the sexes in a still traditionally macho society.

The socialist government has made gender equality a hallmark of its administration, appointing women to half of its ministerial posts and introducing legislation -- expected to be approved in the coming year -- to press companies to fill 40 percent of their board seats with women and improve the gender balance of their staffs at lower levels.

Women sit on the boards of 4 percent of Spain's top companies, compared with the EU average of 8.5 percent, the Paris-based European Professional Women's Network says.

In contrast, women were on nearly 15 percent of corporate boards at Fortune 500 companies in the US in 2005, the New York-based nonprofit research group Catalyst reported.

A male-dominated work environment, big disparities in pay and one of the longest work days in the EU have made it difficult for Spanish women to rise in corporate ranks -- and still find time for family as society expects of them.

As a result, many women are seeking work at multinational corporations, where possibilities for advancement are sometimes greater.

Others are opening their own businesses. Between 1999 and 2005, the percentage of small firms in Spain managed by women rose from 23 percent to 29 percent, according to government data.

"Many women are tired of working in companies that ignore their capabilities and virtues," said Rosa Maria Peris Cervera, director of the Women's Institute, a branch of the Labor Ministry. "Starting a company enables them to better manage their time and family life."

Teresa Perucho, a 30-year-old mother of two and a lecturer at San Pablo-CEU University outside Madrid, had this in mind when she launched a biotech company with two other women in 2005.

But building a business has proved more time-consuming than a traditional job, Perucho said.

Nonetheless, she hopes her schedule will become more flexible once the company is better established.

Her husband, Juan Jose Villaescusa, has helped by taking a lower-paying job with shorter hours at a finance company so Perucho could devote more time to her business.

Villaescusa said he doesn't know any other men who have changed jobs to help their wives.

"The social norm is that the man works. The mentality hasn't changed much," he said, noting that he sometimes feels uncomfortable when discussing his career change in social settings.

But Moraleda said the marketplace itself will transform Spain's corporate culture.

"Any company that has the aspiration of remaining a leader cannot ignore 50 percent of the talent and 50 percent of the customers in a marketplace," she said.

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