Michaela Bakala’s article for daily Hospodářské noviny at the occasion of TOP Czech Woman Awards was published on January 21, 2022. The full version is available here.
Czech women are more likely than their peers abroad to take a cautious approach to their careers. Are they driven by other priorities in life, or are we dealing with systemic problems or social barriers? Examples from elsewhere show that it is possible to reconcile career and family, and that the whole society benefits from this, which is richer and fairer.
January is traditionally a month of stories for me. Especially those that revolve around businesswomen, managers, and ladies from the public sector, in short, all the inspiring participants in the TOP Czech Women poll of Hospodářské noviny. As the patron of this poll, I am very pleased that this year’s poll is also full of strong stories of determination, diligence, and success. As a woman, I am also proud of all the ladies and girls who have taken on something new, pushed their life goals or otherwise shown that they are “not afraid” in the past year. Whether it earned them a mention in the paper or just a good feeling about themselves.
Active and confident women benefit society as a whole. For example, a recent McKinsey study that examined the economic potential of women in the Czech Republic and other countries in the region speaks to the measurable aspects. According to this study, women in the Czech Republic contribute 38 percent of GDP, while in countries to the west of our borders the figure is less than 10 percent higher. If the position of women in the labor market were to strengthen, i.e if women were to increase their employment and occupy higher positions, the Czech Republic’s GDP could increase by more than 7 percent per year by 2030 compared to the estimated trend. This is equivalent to roughly CZK 450 billion every year, which – consider for yourself – is not entirely futile in the current situation.
Czech women don’t care about their careers. Or?
Thanks to the fact that I know the environment in number of countries on different continents, I can responsibly say that Czech women managers and entrepreneurs have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just that there are noticeably fewer of them here compared to other Western European countries…
Although the proportion of women among university graduates in the Czech Republic is the same as in Scandinavia, for example, the representation of women in managerial positions is lower and lower as we move up the corporate hierarchy. At the very top, we have 4 percent of women, whereas in northern Europe it is a full quarter. For context, it is important to note that companies with a higher proportion of women in management also have higher profitability on average.
Of course, we can assume that Czech women simply have other priorities than their careers. But perhaps the lack of facilities and support that would allow them to better combine personal life, family and work plays a role. This is not just a topic for politicians, we do not need new laws and regulations right away. Companies that are smart and know that nurturing talent will pay off in the long term can take it upon themselves.
In our country, we are also still faced with often archaic prejudices about women and their careers. The pressure of the immediate environment and the weight of societal expectations lead women to question their role and their ambitions. The main question is often precisely to what extent they can devote themselves to things other than caring for their families and children. How long can they postpone motherhood, or can they afford not to have children at all? How to find a place in a male group, how to compare oneself with men and how to remain a woman, and a happy woman at that.
Moreover, for some time now we have not lived in a completely normal world, in which it was much more possible to plan and predict. This has also put us women in a situation where we have to be even more flexible, both at work and with our families. We face increased demands from all sides. We have to be patient, live and work in a kind of uncertainty, without losing optimism and purpose.
Let me return once again to the first and perhaps most important question raised a few lines above, that of the choice between career and family. In my opinion, it does not have to be – and indeed is not – an “either or” situation. It is the Nordic countries that show us by their example that it is possible to reconcile career and family. A wonderful example is Sweden, A wonderful example is Sweden, which, according to the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, has become the country with the highest participation of women in the labour market: 75.4 per cent of Swedish women are employed, compared to the OECD average of 61.4 per cent.
Sweden has long been a strong advocate of gender equality, and their main credo is that everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, but also to find a balance between their career and family life. Sweden has come a long way in implementing this principle, which began in the 1980s and includes not only legislation to prevent discrimination, but also a number of support mechanisms. These include, for example, shared parental leave.
This is a total of 480 days (approximately 16 months) and both parents are encouraged – for reasons of gender equality – to share the leave fairly. This is not just an empty invitation; 90 days are legally reserved for each parent, which cannot be transferred to the other parent. If you walk around any Swedish city today, you will find lots of dads with prams in its streets and parks, chatting and drinking coffee together while they look after their children. I’m sure a similar change in childcare settings is possible here in the Czech Republic. If the new government wants to kick-start the Czech economy and support families, it should take inspiration from Sweden.
“AS A WOMAN, I AM PROUD OF ALL THE LADIES AND GIRLS WHO, IN THE PAST YEAR, HAVE TAKEN SOMETHING NEW, PUSHED THEIR LIFE GOALS OR OTHERWISE SHOWN THAT THEY ARE SIMPLY NOT AFRAID.”
An important issue that I feel in this context is the existence of an imaginary glass ceiling and the pay gap between women and men. Do they even have a chance of achieving the same status and earning the same money as men? It turns out that not quite yet. Unfortunately, the Czech Republic has the fifth highest gender pay gap in the EU. Honor to the companies that have decided to address this situation and equalize the pay of men and women.
What women’s leadership can do
But not everything can be expressed in numbers. For me at least, the less material aspect of women’s leadership is just as important. For women are usually – and I believe rightly so when I look at the stories of award-winning ladies – associated with empathy, colaboration and the ability to connect. I am certainly not alone in feeling the need for all of this at literally every turn lately. I believe it is women who can bring rationality to public debate and help bring our polarized society together.
And that’s at all levels, maybe even the highest. The presidential election is coming up and I can think of several ladies who have passed our poll over the past 18 years who would take on the office with honor. One woman has already entered the presidential race and I hope others will follow. I see this as a very positive signal and opportunity for our society. Regardless of the outcome, it will certainly be an interesting campaign and debate. I am looking forward to it!
Looking around, I believe in positive change coming. Maybe not as fast as we would like, but the status of women in the Czech Republic is changing after all. I hope that at least a small part of this is contributed by our survey. TOP Czech Women is a celebration not only of successful women, but of all women who have courage. I sincerely hope that they will be an inspiration for others. It is important to try and not give up!
Michaela Bakala, the philanthropist,
the patroness of the Top Czech Women project