In Croatia, this day used to be celebrated as Mother’s Day; seen from today’s perspective this complements the mentality women were brought up in – they were seen primarily as mothers. In more recent times, the globally recognized International Women’s Day (IWD) started to take a new form. More concretely, this day and this month are used to loudly voice concerns regarding the areas where women are still disenfranchised. Let us take a step back. In the context of the socio-political system that Croatia was once a part of, gender equality was a given. However, if we take a closer look this equality was there in name only: working women, despite having a solid kindergarten infrastructure and working hours that allow for child-rearing, had to assume almost full responsibility for the household, their children and the elderly.
A couple of decades later, the situation has not improved much. Equal rights are still accepted in theory, but women take on the majority of the family and household-related tasks (around 85%), take up lower-paying jobs and are often paid less than their male colleagues for the same job.
Deloitte, in collaboration with the Croatian Employers’ Association, conducted a study regarding the status of Croatian female professionals. According to the results of the study, women put in a greater effort to get to the same position as their male colleagues. Equal behaviour, such as speaking with a raised voice, is interpreted completely different for men and women. Women are also often considered less capable than men. The discriminatory behavioural patterns observed in the study are completely unsupported by data: throughout their education women perform better than men. Women also make up 60% of college graduates. However, key decision-making positions in business in politics are taken up by women (only 20% of board members and chairwomen in the private sector, 5% board members in state-owned companies, 12% of the Parliament, and 20% of ministers are women).
Today, at the Zagreb Stock Exchange, I participated in the Ring the Bell for Gender Equality event that in many countries around the world symbolically calls attention to the important role of the business sector in promoting gender equality. There, I have found out that 62% of Croatia’s physicians are female, but out of 55 public hospital directors only 8 of them are women, i.e. 14.5%. If we keep in mind that more diversity brings more success, I believe we have more than enough data that shows the need for change. We have to seriously think about this question and start working on solutions that are not quick fixes because they necessitate changes in attitude, reducing and removing harmful stereotypes and related unconscious biases.
We have a lot of work to do, and one day per year to actively think about this important topic is not enough. However, it is important to keep in mind how important the topic of gender equality really is, and what changes we should do next.
Through MAMFORCE, we engage with workplaces that need systematic adjustment in managing people in all areas: selection, development, career planning, and progress. There are a lot of obstacles that women face even in workplaces that are considered transparent and objectives, even when they often are not. Facing the data is the first step to awareness. After that, it is hard work to change workplace relationships, and with it the statistics. The organizational culture can be an asset or a burden; the new Pixar animated movie shows what it means to be a woman in a dominantly male context.
Purl the female wool yarn comes to her new job in the B.R.O. financial company where she automatically gets shunned, ignored in meetings, excluded from group activities, and ridiculed. She adjusts and changes herself to be accepted, but that comes at a cost. The story has a happy ending because diversity brings mutual support, a better working environment, professional success, and feelings of satisfaction and happiness. It might be using a bit of an extreme approach, but this cartoon provides important signs for women how to stay authentic in the workplace and not fall into the trap of leadership cloning, since many studies have shown that male and female leadership focused on cooperation, support, and personal development is necessary for a successful business.
Besides that, we need to show mutual support to grow together. As Ivana Gažić, the CEO of the Zagreb Stock Exchange tells us, 3 is a magical number. Stefan Vanoverbeke, the CEO of IKEA for Southeast Europe, sent a similar message at the Equality is Better for Everyone conference by paraphrasing an old African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. His company along with 6 others started an alliance that advocates for gender equality in the workplace.
I hope that this day encouraged you to think about the things you can change about yourself and your surroundings – be they business or private. This way, by the next IWD we will have tangible change that is happening even now. The important thing to keep in mind is that every meaningful change develops slowly at first and then suddenly becomes apparent.
To all the women I wish a happy International Women’s Day, and to the men, I wish they think about the important women that influenced their life.
Diana K. Deskovic, CEO, MAMFORCE.