Diverse government team reflects ‘the best in society’, some FTSE350 disagree

Any government should be expected to comprise the most capable in each policy area. Recent appointments and interviews with FTSE350 chairs reveal how interpretation of this varies. Meanwhile, Spain’s new Prime Minister has sent a strong message where he sees potential. It is quite the opposite of what Donald Trump and others communicated in 2017.

On Thursday 7 June 2018, King Felipe VI swore in Spain’s new government which was composed by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who had won a non-confidence vote against Mariano Rajoy just one week earlier. The predominant media coverage referred to a record number of women, but Sanchez’s considerations appear to reach beyond gender. He told the Media that his new team “[shared] the same vision of a progressive society that was both modernising and pro-European“. Hence, both the content and the staff strategies appear to be in sharp contrast to those of his conservative predecessor.

Not only a majority of women, some hold key positions

Spain is now among the few countries with a female majority government (along with France, Sweden, Canada or Finland). For Sanchez, it is a “reflection of the best in society’ and not only the profiles of his ministers prove this, he also assigned several of what are considered key portfolios to women including finance, economy and the deputy prime minister role who will also be in charge of equality. While the appointments of government positions could and should be considered political statements, they also follow different thought processes. The first administration that Donald Trump had presented was fiercely discussed due to a number of obvious discrepancies. In Germany, the coalition negotiations include agreements on a kind of ownership of certain portfolios for which the respective political party has the strongest say. This approach can result in assignments that only follow political considerations and it has resulted in one ministry presenting an entirely male management team. A move that some observers interpreted as a sheer provocation. However, even the highest ranking decision makers have remarkable reasons why they think appointing women to top jobs is a challenge.

UK study found the ‘worst explanations’ for not appointing women to executive boards

While British blue chip firms, listed in the FTSE 350, are making progress on some key gender metrics (the number of all-male boards fell from 152 in 2011 to 10 in 2017), the team preparing a halfway report heard ‘outrageous explanations’ from FTSE350 CEOs and chairs on why they thought firms were struggling to have (more) women on their boards, including

  • ‘I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’
  • ‘There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex’
  • ‘Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board’
  • ‘Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?’
  • ‘My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board’
  • ‘All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up’
  • ‘We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn’
  • ‘There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman’
  • ‘We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector’
  • ‘I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to’

According to D&I experts, these are the ‘classical’ excuses that can all be easily busted. Many, including UK government officials, are surprised, though, that they still persist today. Looking at the composition of many governments, ministries or state-owned companies, it is also clear that the issue is not limited to the blue chip environment. Therefore, Spain’s new government and the very clear and robust reasoning for each and every appointment can be recognised to be more than just a symbolic move of a Prime Minister who describes himself as a feminist.

Transparent meritocracy and a response to protests

Some of the notable appointments that were featured in various media include:

  • Ms Camen Calvo, culture minister from 2004 to 2007, has become the new deputy prime minister who is at the same time in charge of equality
  • Ms María Jesús Montero, a former Andalusia budget minister, is the new minister of finance
  • Ms Nadia Calviño, the chief (Director General) of the EU budget at the European Commission, is now minister of economic affairs
  • Ms Dolores Delgado, a prosecutor specialised in anti-terrorism, is the new minister of justice
  • Ms Isabel Celáa, a Socialist with long-standing experience in education is now minister of education
  • Mr Josep Borrell, a former European Parliament president, is the new foreign minister
  • Mr Fernando Grande Marlaska, a former high-court judge who took on cases against Basque separatist group, Eta, is now an openly gay minister of the interior
  • Mr Màxim Huerta, a journalist and award-winning novelist, has becomes culture and sports minister
  • Mr Pedro Duque, Spain’s first astronaut, is the new minister for science, innovation and universities

On a day-to-day basis, Ms Meritxell Batet, another Catalan besides Josep Borrell, has been put in charge of relations with Spain’s regions.

When the ministers were sworn in, they took their oaths on the constitution (rather than the bible) and thereby followed the example of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who had become the first Spanish head of government to replace religious symbols during that ceremony.

Mr Sánchez had looked for the best talent for his team also beyond his own party and promised to continue the financial stability approach of his predecessor. He has to navigate a minority situation in parliament until the next general elections. However, he may well be backed by a majority in society, including hundreds of thousands of women who had protested on March 8 – as described in this (English) summary of International Women’s Day 2018: