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PBLN The Leadership Series: “Gender balance: What is it? Is it more than just a social movement?”

By Graham Matthews

On Monday night at Hotel Le Palais four of the top business leaders in the Czech Republic and Slovakia came together to discuss gender balance in their respective industries.

After collecting a free glass of wine or beer and partaking in some brief networking, the 40 plus guests sat down for 90 minutes of thought-provoking discussion. Even though the talk was about gender balance, the panel itself only included one male; Peter Virsik, MD Adidas CEE, although it was also moderated by Pepper de Callier of the Prague Leadership Institute. The rest of the panel consisted of Door Plantenga, MD Heineken SK/CZ, Renata Mrazova, CEO ING Insurance and Radka Donhalova, CEO of Altairu Group and co-author of the McKinsey study ‘Unlocking the Full Potential of Women in Czech Business’.

Each panellist gave their own account of what they thought the term ‘gender balance’ meant before moving on to one of the main issues of the night: quotas. There was an overall negative view of quotas, with Door Plantenga saying they are discriminatory acts that lead to excuses such as “she’s not good but we have to reach the quota” being pulled out. Radka Donhalova was less critical and not against them but said in practice they’ve not been proven to work and have been talked about since the 1990s but still nothing has changed.

Moving on, Renata Mrazova said she hoped gender bias was a generational thing and could feel signals of change. Peter Virsik added that now around 50 per cent of graduates are female so there isn’t a lack of supply for this generation. He pointed to employers needing to do something to link family life with the professional challenge and that quotas aren’t the answer, it has to be a legal change.

All the panellists brought in personal stories to the discussion and none were afraid to share them with so many associates and strangers. From Door Plantenga explaining how she was the first woman doing nearly every job she had to Radkha Donhalova talking openly about challenges she faced when having children and studying for her MBA at Harvard, these personal elements really helped engage the audience.

The rest of the discussion focused on whether there should be changes in Czech law regarding length of maternity leave, with stories in favour and against brought forward. Most specifically the fact that a lot of Czech households rely on two incomes so longer maternity leave should bring down the cost of childcare. But also, in Door Plantenga’s opinion, a lot of strong women she works with had similar upbringings where their mothers are working with less maternity leave and it had a positive effect on them, shaping them into the successful women they are today.

Imposter syndrome, where people don’t believe they are as good as they are, was mentioned as it is more prevalent in high achieving women. This led on to how biological differences can have an effect on women’s success in business and why men often appear more aggressive at gaining promotion. Biological differences were agreed to not be better or worse but just different, and when used to their potential can be really helpful for companies.

When the talk was over guests had the chance to continue networking and ask any unanswered questions to the panellists who stayed for the delicious three course meal afterwards. Organised by, it proved a fascinating event for all who attended.

Pictures of Prague Business Leaders Networking 23.09.2013

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