Nadia Calviño, a Top Spanish Official, Wants More Women at the Decision-Making Table
This interview is part of our latest Women and Leadership special report, which highlights women making significant contributions to the major stories unfolding in the world today. The conversation has been edited and condensed.
Nadia Calviño, 53, an economist, is Spain’s first deputy prime minister and minister for economy and digitalization. Before joining the administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a social democrat, in 2018, she was the director general of the budget for the European Commission.
You recently gave a speech in which you declared: “I will never again be in a photo in which I am the only woman. I will not take part again in a debate in which I am the only woman.” Your comments went viral. What led you to make that statement?
You know, I hadn’t planned to say that. But I’ve lately been participating in conferences where I looked around and found myself being the only woman in the picture with 15 men.
Why is the number of women speaking on a panel important?
Because we cannot make 50 percent of our population and our talent invisible. When it comes to public discussions, excluding a representative number of women limits approaches to issues. Also, it’s important for our girls and young women to see role models.
There are some women in leadership who prefer to be the only women on the podium.
Yes. And I have participated in panels with women who said, “Well, this means we have less competition.” I think that’s very misguided.
I’ve been for now 30 years working in areas which are male dominated — finance, competition policy. I have been very used to being “the only woman.” But in recent years I saw progress.
In fact, Spanish society has changed very much from the time I entered my profession. When you look at polls like the Eurobarometer, they show that 90 percent of the Spanish population thinks that women are the equal of men and that we should have equal opportunities.
Yet the gender gap in wages is about 12 percent, according to the European Commission.
One has to remember that before democracy came (beginning in 1975) women could not open a bank account, could not have a passport without the authorization of the husband, and the higher education rate of females was quite low. Now women are above men in the number who are studying. So, in the course of one or two generations, the country has changed enormously.
Today, Spain is a very progressive and feminist society.
Half of the members of your government’s cabinet are women. Was that mandated?
It was not, but [Mr. Sánchez] has said that he didn’t decide that the cabinet would be 50-50 — he just looked for the best. [Smiles.]
I can only agree.
Right now, we have three [women] vice presidents. When you see the president with three women in the second level and then the number of female ministers, the picture is very powerful.
Do you favor hiring quotas to get more equality in overall employment?
Yes, and I support having women on job-hiring panels. I saw while serving on hiring committees that the woman candidate would not have been considered if another woman had not been present.
You were economics minister in March 2020. What were your thoughts as you saw a once-in-a-century pandemic coming your way?
At first nobody was very aware of the scope of the pandemic. As soon as that became clear, I thought, ‘OK, this is serious.’
On March 10, 2020, we took steps to support the tourism sector. On March 17, we created a package to provide liquidity to the economy. Very soon we set in place a mechanism to protect jobs and the income of self-employed workers. It’s been effective.
The recovery in our labor market is unprecedented. Our employment levels are higher today than prepandemic, even prefinancial crisis.
From what I read in the international media, there’s been in Spain, as in many European countries, a rise in the growth of extreme right-wing political movements. What do you attribute that to?
I see it as a possible pendulum or boomerang effect backlash phenomenon. When you look at polls in Spain, the population has a rather liberal or progressive stance.
The 2008 financial crisis hit us very badly, and it prompted the emergence of extreme political parties on both the right and left. It also facilitated nationalistic movements in some regions, and that prompted these new extreme right-wing parties to emerge, something we thought we were vaccinated against because of the [Franco] dictatorship.
Are you alarmed by their growth?
Yes, I am alarmed. To go back to the central issue of our interview: One of their agenda items is antifeminism.
That’s why, to a certain extent, I feel their rise has to do with backlash. The feminist agenda has advanced so much in Spain. This may just be a swing of the pendulum.
What do you think the future of your childrenwill be like?
It’s so difficult to anticipate what the future will bring.
I do think they will live in a world which will bring them amazing opportunities. I think they will live in a more equal society. But I’m fighting for that anyway.