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Social> Gender equality 03 Mar 2020

BBVA: a history of banking on (and for) women

In 1975, Spain abolished the legal authorization that all married women needed in order to be able to work, travel abroad, or own property. Six years prior, Banco de Bilbao had made history by launching a campaign targeting women. Using the slogan “A bank that’s concerned about us women?” the bank took steps to provide women with financial and business advisory services as well as helping them take control of certain banking transactions, without requiring the consent of a legal guardian.

At the end of the 1970s, women made up more than 50 percent of the population; they managed households and were joining the workforce. The lack of economic independence for women impeded the initial steps towards equality. It was an era in which Banco de Bilbao (BBVA’s predecessor) was in the midst of a revolution: new financial products like credit cards, inspired by trends in foreign banking, were opening doors to a new, previously ignored customer segment.

Banco de Bilbao took the lead in 1969, launching the first advertising campaign targeting women. Documentation available in BBVA's historical archives provides information about an avant-garde campaign, a risky venture given there was no precedent. The bank invested 43 million pesetas (approximately €258,430 or $283,530 today) creating its own magazine entitled “Diana” targeting women customers and organizing the “silver rose” award in recognition of outstanding women active in their communities or in a profession.

BBVA: a history of banking on (and for) women - BBVA

The campaign was a resounding success in two senses. On one hand, Spanish women found a bank that gave them what they needed. According to the numbers kept in the historic archives, from the beginning of the campaign through 1970, Banco de Bilbao opened more than 87,000 accounts totaling more than 1.5 billion pesetas in deposits (more than €9 million or $9.6 million in today’s money).

The Woman's Bank

Justified by the numbers it had reached, the bank created The Woman’s Bank, a special service for women, whose mission was to provide female employees banking and financial advice as well as helping them open bank accounts and receive mortgage application approvals. Starting in 1973, the service was rolled-out to close to 300 of the bank’s largest branches in Spain and was staffed primarily by female employees. Until 1969, women working in banking was almost unheard of. Those women who did work in banks were usually in support positions (receptionists, secretaries, typists, etc.) and almost never customer-facing.

The first issues of the bank’s internal magazine, “Diana,” and press clippings from the time demonstrate the important impetus that was given to incorporating women in the workforce. Aiming to showcase the role of women within the organization, interviews to be published in “Diana” were conducted with the first women stepping into senior roles.

Image of the 1969 campaign - BBVA Historical Archive

The Women’s Bank boosted the bank's public relations efforts, encouraged its participation in pro-women activities, and even inspired investment clubs for women. The service had such an impact that Banco de Bilbao representatives were invited to take part in international conferences alongside influential women participants and high-calibre players such as Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the U.K. From 1979 to 1990.

The path to gender equality

The Woman's Bank ceased to exist as a discrete service at the end of the 1970s. The bank began to rethink what had been a disruptive strategy a decade before but that needed an overhaul given the new political, economic, and social climate. The so called “positive discriminatory” approach that had initially made waves didn't seem to make sense any more because women had been included in virtually all aspects of the workforce.

From the 1980s, the number of female and male employees began to equal out, especially in mid-level positions. Yet the path to senior executive gender equality has been more difficult and continues to be a challenge today.

Image of the 1969 campaign - BBVA Historical Archive

BBVA is actively working on different initiatives in order to promote equality and inclusion within its workforce. Having conducted additional quantitative and qualitative analysis, the bank has identified three improvement areas where it can better take advantage of the female potential and talent residing within the organization. The first focuses on eliminating unconscious biases in the selection process. To this end, it is essential to effectively implement the Rooney Rule, which requires that half of the final candidates for internal positions be women. The bank has also improved the wording of its job descriptions by using inclusive language.

The bank’s second strategic approach to promoting gender equality is to showcase its female talent, supporting women who demonstrate the potential to excel, ensuring they are positioned for promotions to more senior roles. The final area of focus for promoting gender equality relates to leveling the playing field and consists of a set of initiatives that are aimed at balancing the professional opportunities available to men and women. The “Work better. Enjoy life.” program, under which important measures related to “disconnecting” have been implemented, exemplifies this objective. Best practices have been put in place to achieve a more efficient use of time, measures such as encouraging “unplugging” from the computers and officially closing Spain’s corporate offices at 7:00 p.m.