Michaela Bakala, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and wife of one of the wealthiest Czechs, recently celebrated her 50th birthday. “I have much to look back on with satisfaction but I also have a great many plans for the future. I am seriously considering studying in the USA,” says Michaela Bakala. Though an ardent supporter of women in business, she says, in an interview with E15, that not all gender equality measures need to be set in stone or law. That observation, in her opinion, includes quotas designed to battle gender inequality. “Inspirational examples of successful women are more powerful weapons in the battle to remove gender inequalities than prescribed quotas.” Michaela also serves as the Board of Trustees Chair at the Bakala family’s foundations, the Bakala Foundation in the Czech Republic and the Foundation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala in Switzerland.
You are also well known as someone who devotes a lot of energy to women and their standing in society. You are, among other things, a patron of the Top ženy Česka [Top Czech Women] poll. An issue that is frequently mentioned is the gender pay gap. Do you actively contribute to resolving the issue, in particular in your companies?
“One reason why I remain a patron of the Top ženy Česka poll after all these years is to continue to battle the gender inequality and bias women face in this country. The glass ceiling that stops women from earning the same pay for the same work as men is not the only evidence of persistent inequality in terms of opportunities and conditions. My personal opinion is that not everything needs to be put into legislation. It is far more important to take a good, hard look at how our society as a whole views the norms tacitly governing women’s rights and how it behaves towards women. I am convinced that inspirational examples of women who have achieved success in business, political, and social life are more powerful weapons in removing gender inequalities than quotas, for example. There are many women in the management of our companies even without any prescribed quotas. For example, the Economia media house has a female chair of the board and female directors of all the editorial offices.
What are the areas in which your foundations are currently most active? Can you reveal the most significant donation, in terms of importance and size, recently provided and who the recipient was?
In addition to the regular, ongoing programs of the Bakala Foundation, supported every year with tens of millions of crowns, Zdeněk and I gave much thought to the best way to assist in the post-pandemic recovery. Being of the opinion that every crisis is an opportunity or catalyst led us to decide to invest in digitization. We believe it can help society to reach the next level. Our family foundation thus donated four million crowns to a community of volunteers associated with Česko.Digital. The funds will help in the development of two innovative projects: “Učíme online” [Teaching online] and “Střecha duševního zdraví” [Roof over mental health]. We feel well aware that the pandemic is impacting families financially, socially, and psychologically.
Reaching 50 is a milestone. Has it prompted you to start planning something new or significant that you previously did not have enough time to pursue?
You are right; reaching such a milestone naturally prompts one to look back at how one has lived, and ponder what’s next. I am grateful for my family, my magnificent husband, our four wonderful children, and, of course, for my health. I have much to look back on with satisfaction but I also have a great many plans for the future. I used the time of restricted travel to pass my English examination for academic purposes. I am seriously considering studying in the USA. I am interested in two areas in particular: psychology and philanthropy management.
We also always continue to analyze where next we may be able to be of assistance. We pursue philanthropic activities in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, South Africa, and the USA. No one can be sure of what is in store for the planet or what aftershocks of the pandemic we will face in all areas of our lives.
What criteria do you use to decide who obtains assistance from your charitable foundations?
In whatever ways our foundations provide assistance, we remain faithful to our philanthropic vision, summed up by the motto of “Courage, Freedom, Education.” In selecting the actual projects or talented people that will receive our support, we receive help from teams working within our foundations, and sometimes from external panels of experts. Nevertheless, I always strive to be personally involved. I seek the opportunity to contemplate whom, and under what conditions, to give our support. I take part in the panels and in interviewing students applying for scholarships. I greatly enjoy following their progress and life journeys.