The additional market value (USD) that would be generated in the global economy by advancing gender equality and female leadership (Source: McKinsey 2015). In addition, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development stated in 2018 that having women in leadership positions is critical to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Environmental stewardship and social inclusion are among the key competencies that women leaders possess. For March’s blog edition, we decided to interview women leaders in the world of sustainable development. In this interview, Sandra Gallego Salvà, the director of Ethic Magazine, tells us about her background and her ideas on gender and leadership.
Sandra, you are the co-founder of a well-known magazine in Spain that places sustainability, democracy, and critical thinking at the center of change. You are a woman leading a paradigm shift. Tell us more about who Sandra Gallego Salva is and what your North Star is for 2021.
Sandra: My trajectory is a reflection of my concerns. I was born in Barcelona, lived a large part of my life in Switzerland where I studied philosophy and then advertising and marketing, and then used these skills to build a project that still exists today, the konsept of Charity (kofC) association. I came back to Spain in 2007, when everything seemed to be dissipating through the sewer grates, but this endangerment allowed me to bring out the best in myself! From there, I developed a “survivalist” spirit as an independent entrepreneur with the desire to make things happen. As for my North Star for this year of quicksand: less individualism and more collective spirit (for better mental health). I am not so much worried about the impact of the pandemic as about the generalized navel-gazing, the saturation of all kinds of stimuli, the loss of focus, etc.
"If it's just to make a new medium and contribute to an endogamic culture, I'd rather sell nail polish over the phone."
What motivated you to create Ethic Magazine? How did your change towards sustainability begin?
S: Sustainability is an expression that didn’t exist in my vocabulary 15 years ago. It was something I had in me before that, like common sense. What struck me when I moved to Spain (in addition to the cultural richness of the country) was the lack of awareness, civic-mindedness, or let’s call it lack of education. I wasn’t going to invent myself as a teacher overnight, but I could put my experience in communication at the service of a new channel of communication. My associate, Pablo, was already running a magazine in the same sector and when I told him, “If it’s just to make a new medium and contribute to an endogamic culture, I’d rather sell nail polish over the phone”, we threw ourselves into the great void. We wanted an attractive medium both in terms of content and form. We wanted to open a debate in which everyone could participate.
What challenges have you encountered throughout your career as a woman leader in the sustainable development sector?
S: The truth is that not much more than my partner. Perhaps when it came time to sign contracts or negotiate, our interlocutors tended to turn to my associate. But generally speaking, at the beginning, we received mostly skeptical reactions … Then, when we were able to show constancy and consistency, everything was much simpler.
"The ability of women to take on leadership roles is something that is accepted by everyone in theory but is still not accepted in practice."
In the early days of Ethic, you wrote an article about gender inequality in Spanish companies. At that time only 10% of women held management positions. In your opinion, how has this gender gap evolved in recent years?
S: Things have evolved, and in the right direction without a doubt, although there is still a long way to go. Women represent 45% of employees in Spanish companies, which shows that things have changed very quickly in recent years. But it must be said that the higher you go up the hierarchical ladder, the lower these figures get. The ability of women to take on leadership roles is something that is accepted by everyone in theory but is still not accepted in practice (and I say this including us women, who are the queens of self-sabotage). We are not erasing centuries of inequality in 2 decades, but we are witnessing that the transition is underway, which will benefit our daughters. I am and will remain optimistic!
Through your work, you are constantly in contact with companies implementing CSR strategies. How do you see the CSR landscape in Spain/Europe? Are there more women in charge of sustainability in companies?
S: To give you an idea, the panorama has gone from the tundra to the taiga. But it is true that actions in this sector are multiplying. Even though Spain has not led this change of consciousness, it has been a good follower in moving towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Objectives. What I can assure you is that 10 years ago I had an appointment with communication and/or marketing teams and now, in the majority of cases, my interlocutor (who very often happens to be a woman, a matter of sensitivity?) is someone from the CSR department.
A report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission states that ensuring gender equality and female leadership in the workplace is key to generating economic growth (12 trillion dollars) and achieving the SDGs. What do you think about this? Why do you think female leadership is crucial in the ecological transition?
S: Naturally, I am in favor of this theory and I am happy that in addition to the praise of “pacifists” and “sensitive” that we receive, we now have the advantage of being “profitable” since this seems to legitimize our actions ha ha!
"Trust your instincts, listen, and don't look back."
From your experience, what advice would you give to a young woman trying to lead change for a better world?
S: Trust your instincts, listen, and don’t look back.
Any particular wishes for 2021, for yourself, for our world?
S: Harmony, love, connection between people. It sounds very hippie, but I believe deeply in the beauty of the human being and his ability to commune with other specimens of his species, although we are quite paralyzed at the moment. I think we’re just beginning to learn, the hard way.