Michaela Bakala’s article for Czech daily Hospodářské noviny at the occasion of TOP Czech Woman Awards was published on March 24, 2023. The full version is available here.
As the TOP Czech Women Awards patron, I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the award winners and nominees. It fills me with joy that so for 18 years now, we have gathered so many unique women. Each of their life stories showcases not only their hard-won success at the end of a difficult journey but also their courage, endurance, and determination to overcome obstacles. In addition, they have each demonstrated outstanding empathy, ability to compromise, openness, trust, and personal responsibility.
March 23rd marks the sad anniversary of the passing of one of the world’s most influential women – Madeleine Albright. As such, it was only fitting that we dedicate a memorial to her during the ceremony of our poll. Her work influenced world history and the international community, and her courageous voice, strong views, and opinions will be sorely missed in this turbulent world. I invited Madeleine to TOP Czech Women Awards several times, but unfortunately, covid and her untimely departure robbed her of the time to be our guest. I believe she would have loved it here and would have left happy and hopeful to see the successful and courageous women we have here.
The courageous ones, who have established themselves in leading managerial positions, and started their own business or socially beneficial activities, prove there is no need to be afraid of big dreams. On the contrary, they are the best inspiration for others, and their successes only confirm our need to continue breaking down stereotypes.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of gender stereotypes to break down among us. Negative comments are often directed at what women are good at, what they could do, or their looks and intellect. Although one would expect we’d be past this in the 21st century, the opposite is true. And two years of pandemic measures have finally forced us to throw off the rose-tinted glasses. The stereotypes in the family, the demands placed on women, and the things they must manage as mothers and partners alongside their jobs have shown where we genuinely stand regarding women’s equality. And the need for progress has been fully exposed in all aspects.
Gender equality is one of the fundamental values of modern democratic states. But, unfortunately, despite the progress the Czech Republic has made in recent decades, we are ranked 22nd out of 27 EU countries in the Equality Index 2021. The corona crisis has thus imaginatively opened Pandora’s box with this critical yet neglected topic.
However, Danuše Nerudová’s presidential candidacy has hit the public space even more strongly. It wasn’t even about the candidacy itself; she is not the first or only woman to ever run for the presidency. Rather, the fact that she had a real chance and broke down stereotypes was a big leap for the Czech Republic in the perception of women in politics. Above all, she ran a positive campaign, actively involved her family and husband, and mobilized young voters. Even though she did not make it to the second round, she proved that it is possible to accept defeat with honor. She has done a great deal of work, and for that, she deserves thanks.
However, it would be naive to think that a change in the social climate will lead to rapid and visible changes in the real lives of all women. In the first week of March, PwC published a ranking comparing gender equality in the labor market in OECD countries in 2023. The Czech Republic ranks 24th out of 33 countries surveyed, and the gap between the earnings of women and men in the same positions in the Czech Republic has not narrowed but has widened. Women in the Czech Republic earn 19% less than men, compared with 16% a year earlier. Twenty years ago, in 2000, the pay gap was 22%, according to this index.
This sad statistic certainly does not indicate that the position of women in Czech society is being transformed in the right direction. Nor can we close our eyes to the effects of unequal pay on the quality of a woman’s personal life in the long term; for example, single mothers’ low standard of living. Now consider that there are currently over 70,000 Ukrainian women in the Czech labor market, and we know very little about their living standards and working conditions.
The good news is that the current government is perhaps closer to this issue than the previous one. The amendment to the Labor Code, which it plans to submit to the Parliament this year, is also intended to increase the transparency of remuneration rules and policies enshrined in the European directive. Although this is unlikely to eliminate all the causes of pay inequality, greater transparency may mean that women can better defend themselves against disadvantages and challenge discrimination.
The younger generation seems relatively clear on gender equality. I recently read an article about a survey of female students at grammar and secondary vocational schools in the Czech Republic. The results show that the majority do not think that gender stereotypes will have any negative impact on their chances of studying and pursuing a career. So, perhaps today’s generation is still shaped by stereotypical ideas, but they certainly do not admit them.
I cannot think of a better way to conclude. The world around us is changing; year after year, it presents us with new challenges. So let’s be ourselves in it, continue to have our dreams and goals, and above all, never lose the courage to break stereotypes.
Michaela Bakala, philanthropist,
patron of the TOP Czech Women Awards
TOP Czech Women 2022 – results in individual categories
1. Katarína Kohlmayer – CFO, board member of KKCG
2. Jitka Haubová – board member and Chief Executive Director of Komerční banka, President of the International Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic
3. Kateřina Kupková – CEO and Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Lemz Biocel Paskov
1. Ivana Šachová – owner of Silex (SCANquilt), a company focused on the sale of blankets and bedding
2 . Alexandra Kala – owner of Profimed, a premium dental hygiene company
3. Iva Šťastná – owner of Portiva, Brno-based investment group managing assets over ten billion CZK
1. Danuše Nerudová – economist, politician, academic
2. Martina Benešová-Schäfer – scientist
3. Milena Králíčková – Rector of Charles University in Prague
The daily Hospodářské noviny announces 25 women in each of the three categories. The order is given for the first three, the other winners are presented here.