Give us equal opportunities, the rest we can handle on our own

March 29, 2024
The article was published in Hospodářské noviny on 22 March 2024.
Dear readers,
Each year for the last 19 years I have noted with great interest and pride how many inspiring Czech women there are in entrepreneurship, management, and the non-profit sector. And I am honored to be a patron of the Hospodářské Noviny TOP Women of the Czech Republic project, which is about supporting one another, building self-confidence, and appreciating women in business and in the public sector. It is also an opportunity to appeal to company managers, politicians, and society for change - and not only for women.
An (un)level playing field There is talk of "diversity fatigue" within the private sector and increasingly in public discourse. However, there is really nothing to be tired of. Unfortunately, women still do not have the same opportunities as our male counterparts. And I’m not just referring to financial remuneration, but also to the position of women in management and the level of support they are offered by society. The figures do not lie.
According to Grant Thornton's International Business Report, the number of women in senior management positions is growing very slowly - half a percentage point in the last year to 32.4 percent. That's an increase of just 13 percent since 2003, when the survey was first conducted. 13 percent in 21 years! Deloitte reports that out of every 100 Czechs in decision-making positions within companies, only 17 are women. The European average is over 30.
And let’s not forget politics and the civil service. Unfortunately, there is still an inverse relationship: the higher the political level, the fewer women there are. And although women are members of political parties, they are absent from decision-making bodies. Women make up over 50 percent of the civil service, but again, men hold more senior positions. Are women just not aiming higher?
There is also still a significant gender pay gap, with the European Union Gender Equality Index and the World Economic Forum ranking the Czech Republic as one of worst countries in Europe for this indicator. An international survey in which the SYRI Institute represented the Czech Republic shows that Czech men earn 12 percent more than women for the same work. And let us not forget single mothers or women in retirement. The Gender Pension Gap in the Czech Republic is almost 14 percent, a result of unequal remuneration and career breaks for childcare. This vicious cycle needs to be addressed where it starts - in the workplace.
Did we really need quotas? Based on a directive from Brussels, the Czech Republic has laid the legal groundwork for mandating a required percentage of women in upper management positions at listed companies. It is a great shame that the corporate sector has long failed to make more proactive use of our potential, and only now, under the threat of sanctions, is it starting to address gender balance issues. Not to mention the passion that quotas can arouse and how they can be rather damaging to the “women's issue”. It is not a question of competing with men, or of going so far as to discriminate against them during the recruitment process. On the contrary, it is about creating equal partnerships with men, not only in the workplace but also in our private lives. Equality paves the way for a healthy, prosperous society, from both a business and a societal standpoint.
In the Czech Republic, part-time, flexible, or shared positions are still woefully uncommon, making it difficult for women to access or return to the labor market. Over 92 percent of Czech women work full-time. In developed European countries, this figure is around two thirds, and in the Netherlands, for example, it is less than half. So why isn’t this possible here?
We are really not asking for quotas. What we are calling for are, above all, options for part-time work for both parents, flexible working hours, and sufficient capacity in pre-school facilities, be it in nurseries, kindergartens, or company-sponsored children's groups.
Companies must do more to meet women's needs. Every day I hear about mothers who would be happy to join the workforce while on maternity leave, but this is not possible without a proactive approach from employers. By this I mean more openness towards part-time work, the introduction of flexible working hours, and the creation of suitable organizational structures. As research by Grant Thornton has confirmed, the proportion of women in management positions is highest in flexible and hybrid models enabling work from home.
The Czech Republic could also increase economic growth by involving more women in professional, decision-making positions. By harnessing our potential, the Czech gross domestic product in 2030 could be approximately half a trillion CZK higher than expected. According to a study by McKinsey, a better gender balance would bring in an additional 1.3 trillion CZK.
To this end, I call on companies to be genuinely proactive in their approach to women and mothers instead of making empty proclamations. I also call on the government to accelerate the implementation of the 2021-2030 gender equality strategy it has adopted.
Parents deserve a choice Involving men—dads— in childrearing or domestic duties is also key. This cannot be done solely by raising awareness, but also through fixed parental leave allowances which are conditional on fathers being actively involved, i.e. fathers alternating with mothers in caring for young children, as is routine practice in countries like Sweden.
Let’s go even further and break down stereotypes, accepting as perfectly normal that dad is on parental leave. That it is normal for a man to clean the house, do the laundry, take care of the children. Let us accept as normal that a woman, a mother, is active in the workforce instead of her husband and fulfills her ambitions. Active participation in parenting and housework by their partners enables women to get back into the workforce and help with the creation of our economy.
Choosing to parent and care for one’s family is a valuable, important role. However, everyone should also have the opportunity and the enabling conditions to pursue their careers. That's why we should give partners and families the freedom to choose and to support them in both parenting and in their careers. Because as I often say, for me it's not an either/or choice. For me it's about finding a path, sharing roles, and supporting each other.
As both an optimist and a realist, I remain calm. For I know what we women are capable of, how much we can handle, the enormous potential that is within us. The world is changing. Slowly, but surely. There are already many of us; women in high managerial or political positions, self-made entrepreneurs, award-winning scientists, artists. We are no longer the exception, as were the incredibly brave women who stubbornly blazed a trail for us. The writer Božena Němcová, the first Czech pilot Božena Langlerová, the lawyer Milada Horáková, the politician Františka Plamínková, the opera singer Ema Destinnová, the artist Toyen, the humanitarian Marie Schmolková, the fashion designer Hana Podolská, the journalist Inka Bernášková, and the composer and conductor Vítězslava Kaprálová. These women and many others have proven that we all have the ability and power to influence the world and shape the future, regardless of our gender.
But I have spent enough time appealing to companies, politicians, and men. Now I have a message for you, my dear ladies. Congratulations to the winners of the survey and to all the nominees! I wholeheartedly encourage the rest of you to find your way into business, politics, or the non-profit sector. To fulfill your dreams and aspirations, and to be courageous. Because even if you undertake a small project, you will feel great about yourself. And you'll be an inspiration to your children, your community, and who knows, maybe we'll see you in one of our future surveys. A survey that celebrates, honors, and adores successful women.
Best of luck, Michaela Bakala


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