Equality policies and practices in companies

The First Spanish Equality at Work Monitor reveals that two thirds of companies are complying with the Equality Law, particularly regarding discrimination, and that 48% have an equality plan. Equality measures are linked to the retention of female talent, and in over 60% of cases they include options such as reduced working time, flexible working hours or access to leave. Although progress has been made, companies still tend to lack coherent equality policies.

The First Spanish Equality at Work Monitor (Monitor Español de Igualdad Laboral), prepared by Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School, Villafañe & Asociados Consulting and the recruitment agency Adecco, assesses equality practices in Spain, as well as improvements in the employment situation of women. The report includes a quantitative study, based on a survey among 124 companies from different economic sectors, together with a qualitative analysis based on in-depth interviews with university experts, company representatives and policymakers.

Current situation regarding employment and wages

According to figures from the Spanish National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE), economic activity rates among women increased by 10% from 2002 to 2005; nevertheless, the gap between the rates for men and women remains above 20 percentage points. Furthermore, in general, the occupational positions held by women continue to be inferior to those of men. Thus, women represent only 5% of those on administrative boards, 8% of persons holding senior management positions and 17% of those in management jobs (ES0708019I). Female participation in intermediate-level positions has increased to 31%, but in two out of three cases such progress is found only in jobs that are low in the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO).

Moreover, wage disparities are significant, partly related to the differences in the positions occupied by men and women, but also because in many cases the salary for men is higher even if the jobs are of the same category. This pay gap is greater and tends to increase for those over the age of 35 years (Figure 1).

Average monthly pay, by age and sex, 2005

Average monthly pay, by age and sex, 2005

Source: INE, 2008

Average monthly pay, by age and sex, 2005

Equality policies

Since the approval of the Equality Law (in Spanish) in March 2007 (ES0704019I), Spanish companies have had to implement measures in order to be compliant with the law. According to the Equality at Work Monitor, approximately two thirds of the companies surveyed comply with this law, in particular regarding measures to combat harassment and discrimination at work. However, only 48% of the companies report having an equality plan in place and just 20% foster a balanced gender representation on administrative boards.

Other actions in favour of gender equality relate to the retention of female talent – a major concern in Spanish companies – including professional development, training and measures to reconcile work and family life. In terms of professional development, mentoring (with 54% of women participating) and individual career plans (31%) are among the strategies used. Regarding training, female participation is similar to their weight in the labour market (40%). However, only 16% of the companies surveyed implement specific training to promote equality and diversity at work. Finally, work-life balance measures have become more common in recent years, although they tend to be implemented on an ad hoc basis; almost 50% of the companies surveyed do not have a specific plan for reconciling work and family life (ES0611029I). Among the most popular measures in this regard are reduced working time and flexible working hours, found in more than 60% of cases (Figure 2). Women benefit from these measures to a greater extent than men.

Work–life balance measures in Spanish companies (%)

Work–life balance measures in Spanish companies (%)

Source: Spanish Equality at Work Monitor, 2008

Work–life balance measures in Spanish companies (%)

Company assessment

A total of 91% of the companies surveyed believe that they have a similar or even superior level of equality at work than other enterprises of the same sector size. However, only a few of them – particularly among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – consider equality as a competitive advantage. Most of the companies do not disseminate their equality principles and policies, either at internal or external level, although exceptions arise in large companies in the economic sectors of financial intermediation, pharmaceuticals or energy. Moreover, companies do not measure the results of their equality policies: only 36% quantify the increase in the number of female workers, 17% measure the effect on the work atmosphere, 14% assess the changes in levels of staff retention, 10% examine the effect on absenteeism and 8% consider the impact on motivation and productivity.

Nevertheless, two thirds of the companies surveyed are interested in gaining some kind of equality certification.


The results of the Spanish Equality at Work Monitor show some improvements in gender equality at work, but also reveal the lack of integrated approaches and policies in companies. Enterprises mainly act on an ad hoc basis and without measurable objectives. Only large companies have specific policies, while SMEs are lagging behind.

Further information

In December 2005, the Concilia Plan aiming to foster better work–life balance was signed in the public sector (ES0602104F).

For more information at European level, see the topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02), as well as the various reports based on the Establishment survey on working time and work–life balance.

Antonio Corral, IKEI

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