The gender agenda across Europe

Although it cannot be said that women necessarily bring better performance to
financial services, additional diversity in the area of selection may produce interesting

Although the proportion of women on boards has gone from 11.9% in 2010 to 17.8% in 2013 in large European listed companies, the gender gap is still far from being filled despite the several official stances taken over the past years by the EU to make sure women were equally represented in top positions.

But while looking at implementing laws that try to increase the number of women in top positions is certainly a good starting point, the whole issue is often linked to more rooted cultural attitudes and may require increasing the number of women that work in the industry altogether, not just in the higher positions.

Moreover, even when they sit in company boardrooms, women continue to be paid less than their male colleague in the same role.

The European Commission has recently released data on that gender pay gap showing it has barely moved in recent years and still stands at around 16%. As part of the same research, however, the Commission indicated the best examples among the countries that have started tackling the issue.

The Austrian Law on Equal Treatment obliges private companies and public sector bodies with more than 150 employees to publish the average employees’ wages by occupational groups and gender every two years.

In Finland, employers with 30 or more employees are obliged to promote
equality according to a plan concerning pay and other terms of employment drawn up every year in cooperation with employees’ representatives. The plan has to include an analysis of the placement of women and men in different jobs, of the job classification as well as of pay differentials. It must contain measures for achieving equal pay.

In France enterprises employing at least 50 employees have an obligation
to produce and action plans on gender equality. Sanctions are foreseen if companies fail to do so. For the first time, as a result of a 2012 decree, two firms were found in April 2013 not to have complied with the legislation on equal pay.

Social partners are also obliged to actively consider the reduction of the gender pay gap in collective bargaining. Italian legislation includes the requirement for companies with more than 100 employees to compile a report on the working conditions of women and men in the company.

The report is drafted every two years and contains information about many factors, including the pay gap between women and men in the organisation.
Despite all the actions taken, the European Commission also reported that the most senior positions are still predominantly held by men, whether in business, politics or other fields.

Women in European member states only account for an average of 18% of
the members of boards of directors in the largest publicly-listed companies,
and 3% of the CEOs .

In August 2011, the Italian parliament approved the law 120/2011 according to which all the companies listed within the following year were obliged to leave one fifth of their boardroom to their women employees, referred to as “the less represented gender”.

The law – dubbed Golfo-Mosca after the two ministers who worked to have it approved – also requires that by the second and third year after the implantation, women will have to make up a third of the companies’ boardrooms.

By 2022 the law is meant to cease enforcing and in case of non-compliance,
the companies would be fined with between €20,000 and €200,000 by trade unions. After 2022, the decision on the number of women to have in boardrooms will return entirely to the hands of employers.

Following the law’s enforcement, women in Italian boardrooms went from 7.4% to 17.2%, the latest data from Consob – the Italian regulatory body – show.

However, many argue, the percentage is not a great one and, most of all, there is no evidence that employers will keep appointing women to their boardrooms once the law expires.

Paola Schwizer, president of Nedcommunity, an association aiming at enhancing the role of non-executive members on both boards of directors
and supervisory boards, points out that, while the law effectively increased the numbers of women on boards in Italy, the majority of them hold an independent director position.

“Before the 120/2011 law women in boards were for the vast majority close relatives of the main shareholders. Most of all, more than half (59.8%) of the women that currently sit on Italian companies’ boardrooms are not CEOs nor CIOs, but cover more administrative roles.”

While she acknowledges that the law helped women get to boardrooms much faster than they would have otherwise, Schwizer notes that the much-awaited cultural change that should be the basis of an equal policy between men and women at top levels is still far away on the horizon.

“Quite often when a company announces the appointment of a woman to its board, the media report the implementation of the law rather than said woman’s professional qualities as the main reason,” she says.

Talking specifically about fund selection, Schwizer warns fund managers and selectors to pay more attention to the quality of fund and company integrity of corporate governance rather than just running after strategies of risk control and diversification.

Carmine Di Noia, deputy director general at Assonime, the association of Italian listed companies, sounds more positive on the effects the law is having on Italian boardrooms and believes ways exist to make its positive effect last beyond the law’s expiry date.

“It is important that shareholders of companies, who elect boards in Italy, keep a certain level of gender equality in their boards also after 2022. Our code of self-discipline explicitly urges boards to pay attention to their members’ characteristics, which include expertise, experience and gender diversification,” he explains.

Despite the law’s good intention, however, the situation on the ground reveals that women still find it difficult to establish their presence at top level positions.

Barbara Valaperti, senior consultant at Korn Ferry, a source of leadership and talent consulting services, laments the lack of women in top manager position in the Italian asset management industry.

“As far as the asset management industry is concerned, there are very few women in Italy in senior investment positions (CIO or head of asset
allocation). Most of the women we know have a career in sales. Some of
them have been able to reach senior position including country head for international asset management companies,” she says.

Valaperti, who works on executive recruitment and leadership development programmes, also notices that a more diverse team will bring a variety of perspective, which may increase the quality of the investment criteria.

“More specifically, women are more sensitive to the ethical and sustainable
issues and generally they push to include those criteria in their investment
choices,” she says.

Claudia Segre, general secretary of Italy’s Financial Markets Association, Assiom Forex, says few women work in fund selection in Italy at present and more needs to be done to get them involved.

“We need to persuade industry associations to implement education programmes to attract more women professionals to fund selection, so that they can make their views heard in the industry,” she adds.

Interestingly, despite the challenges identified, it seems the situation looks
less bleak for women involved in fund selection than for those working in other sectors of the asset management industry across Europe.

That said, while the topic raises the interest of female selectors in southern European countries, it seemed to be less of an issue for women in the Nordics, despite suggestions from both areas of strong ongoing disparity between men and women.

“There are more men than women, and a ratio of one woman out of ten
investment managers. Maybe a few more in fund selection, but the ratio
might then be two females out of ten,” said Maria Björklund, portfolio
manager, Private Equity, Real Estate & Infrastructure at Postens Pensionsstiftelse in Sweden.

While confirming that the fund world is still male dominated, Susanne Bolin Gärtner, head of Fund Selection at Folksam said: “I do not really think of it so much. There was never a question if I was a man or woman when I got my position.”

The tone slightly changed when asking women in southern European countries such as Spain. Also noting a wide disparity between men and women in the asset management and fund selection sectors, Susana Michelena, financial adviser investment solutions at Allfunds Bank, looks at motherhood and unequal pay as main reasons for the lack of women in fund selection in Spain.

“I believe the number of women will increase in the future but there’s still a long path ahead. Family responsibilities and sometimes a lower salary for the same job are the main reasons for this inequality in numbers,” she says.

Marta Campello (pictured), portfolio manager at Abante Asesores in Madrid, says her company has recently mapped Spanish active managers and in a universe of 100 managers, only seven were women.

“However,” she says, “the number of women in fund selection is rising. At present women make up roughly 20% of the whole workforce in Spain.”

Looking at what’s next on the gender agenda, Campello concludes: “Women should improve their selfconfidence, keep their feminine characteristics, fight for their place in the market and keep working to show that their results are as good as those achieved by men. We should also all understand that diversity – both of gender, opinions, culture and education – is better for the decision making process. It is richer and more successful in most cases.”

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