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Our mindset needs to change - interview with Henryka Bochniarz

Is women’s and men’s entrepreneurship two different things?

Women entered the job market much later and not always fully of their own accord. In Poland after 1989 when numerous companies went bankrupt, women were losing their jobs more often than men. In this case they could either go on the dole or start their own business. And they needed to make ends meet very quickly. As time passed, some of these new women entrepreneurs realized that this was a good way to achieve self-fulfillment. Today, this kind of entrepreneurship contingent on specific circumstances is more and more often replaced by conscious professional Our mindset needs to change - interviev with Henryka Bochniarz choices because women realize that there cannot be full independence without the financial one.

Is supporting women’s entrepreneurship effective?

Yes, it is – as no other kind of business. The Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ idea to create microcredit for women shows this best. The microcredit solvability reaches 99 per cent. Women do not like taking risks. They are extremely sensible starting and making business. They have years of experience planning household budgets where income and expenses need to be balanced or at least possible to be balanced. In Poland, Americans who have started microfunds – mostly in the countryside and in smaller towns – were delighted how low their risk was.

This low risk level, a feature of women’s business, has been much appreciated during the recent economic crisis.

And this was in no way because of feminist attitudes. Business people just recognized that more women in governing bodies radically reduces the risk level. Of course, you can also always find risk-loving women but statistically speaking no tendency to take risk is the main feature of women’s entrepreneurship. Women enter business with a different set of experiences than men and as a result they are able to come up with different solutions. Increasing the number of women on corporate boards does not automatically mean that everything will be better right away. Things will be different and diversity is an asset. Many studies on how to fight the economic crisis stress that the authors of this costly experience were male employees of financial institutions, all of them with a very similar educational and social background. Today it is clear that this was a mistake: diversity is necessary to make safe decisions. So, I think that introducing gender quotas in business will be less painful that in politics.

But it was not in Norway’s case. The act that has introduced 40 per cent quota on corporate boards was controversial.

Management is not theoretical knowledge. It is a skill that needs to be verified by practice. In the beginning, Norwegian companies introducing quotas did have worse results, but this has been rapidly changing. Because of this, in France, where a similar policy was adopted, the process of reaching the prescribed quota was extended to four years. Germany is next in line. Strong economies realize that increasing the number of women in leading positions is necessary. It is enough to have a look at what is going on in the US. For the first time in history, there is higher unemployment among men than women. Up till now, if anybody needed to be pushed out from the job market, it was women. Now the situation is reversed: women have better skills, skills in the areas that have not fallen to pieces like a house of cards in the time of the financial crisis.

Apart from the lack of tendency to take risk, can we talk about any other features that are characteristic for women’s entrepreneurship?

For instance, empathy and the ability to listen – invaluable in all professions that require direct contact with customers. And also flexibility. When in the time of socialism women were made to work as tractor drivers, they succeeded because they are quick to adapt to various roles. Men are much slower emancipating from the stereotypes of what is masculine and what not. Recently, I have come across a very interesting experiment in the US. Because of the swiftly developing market for elderly people services, there is a need for more and more specialists in care taking. One school created a separate nursing program for men to encourage them to embark on this profession, which is strongly dominated by women. Only three men applied. And such is the situation in many areas. Market needs are not compatible with the set of skills that men have.

Why do we have precisely a 40 per cent quota in the case of corporate boards?

All studies show that both in the case of business and politics any impact can be detected if the 30 per cent bar is exceeded. Only then the quantity starts to translate into quality. Otherwise women are forced to assimilate into the male environment, adapt to the male style of thinking and acting. If they do not do it, they resign themselves to a war that they are doomed to lose as a weaker, much less numerous party.

But often outstanding and successful women themselves tend not to support their female colleagues. Being proud of their own success seems to be enough.

People often ask why I am involved in women’s issues. They say: “You’ve achieved so much, what do you need it for?” What annoys me most, are successful women who are happy being just a useless piece of décor among men. I did not suffer so much because of the glass ceiling and was not trying to break it for so many years only to conform to a male dictate. That is the reason why I suggested that one of the discussion panels at European Forum of New Ideas, which the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan organizes in September in Sopot, should be called: “The end of the men’s world.” My male colleagues were looking at me as an odd one. Finally, one of them cautiously tried to make me change my mind: “Of course, I understand that these are important questions today, but does it need to be one of five main panels?” Yes, indeed, because without discussion, without breaking this taboo, we will never realize how big of a problem it is.

Has male hegemony been broken in the confederation that you are the president of?

The confederation board consists of presidents of the companies that are Lewiatan’s members and almost all of them are men. This is beyond my influence, but already in the confederation’s office female managers are the majority. I hire them not because they are women, but because they are independent, responsible, and decisive. Here, they are not afraid to have ambitions for leading positions because they know what my attitude is. Without a support group, networking, which men created for themselves decades ago, introducing gender equality in business will not be possible in a short term. That is why the Women’s Congress that I have been co-creating from its very beginning was so important. Of course, realizing the postulates developed by the congress is important, but its main value lies in effective creating of a women’s network throughout Poland.

The motto of this year’s, Third Congress, is “Equal work, equal pay.”

We are aware that we cannot have a hundred postulates because this would be like having none at all. When we were starting to plan the Third Congress, there were various suggestions, for instance quotas on corporate boards. But for most of us these are abstract questions, so finally we have decided on equal pay. This is crucial both for a nurse, and a professor.

And for her husband because then she brings a bigger share to the household budget.

Yes (laughter). We were looking for a postulate that would bring everybody together and would not be divisive.

According to the Central Statistical Office of Poland the pay gap between women and men with the same set of skills and having the same posts is between 23 and 30 per cent.

Arriving at equal pay will take a while. It is not only a Polish problem, but a phenomenon present in the whole world. What is really at stake is instigating a new way of thinking among women. A large majority of men ask for the highest pay during their job interview whereas women tend to as for the lowest one. A girl I know asked for a raise only after she realized that her brother having the same profession earned a lot more. If you expect little, you get little. Such attitudes are good for an employer. Our low self-esteem and reducing women to obedient and passive participants in the social life starts in childhood. Once looking at my grandchildren I caught myself chastising my granddaughter who was beating up her brother: “Behave, my dear.” Only after a while, I realized that when boys were punching among themselves. I would say: “Boys stop it”. I bit my tongue. This is how we teach girls obedience, lack of pugnacity, self-confidence in competing with men. There is a ton of such stereotypes. Recent studies show that women in leadership positions are afraid that their image may be negative. When a man is assertive, we say he is a great, decisive boss. If a woman has similar features, everybody agrees she is a shrew. We still do not think that the features that are an advantage in men are desirable in women. This faulty mindset needs to change.

We would say that women are too emotional, which is bad, for instance, for decision making.

Of course. If a woman behaved like some of our politicians and justified her decision by, for instance, selling her soul to the devil, everybody would claim she is being emotional, unstable. But if a guy brings up the devil in an economic debate, it seems OK. We need to learn how to balance disadvantages and advantages, rights and duties. Why is there a higher unemployment among women? Especially among the young ones?

Because they get pregnant or potentially can get pregnant, will go on maternity leave and the employer does not want to take such a risk.

Exactly. This is a real problem. One of the members of the confederation described a situation he experienced when he hired a group of young women. All of them got pregnant at the same time. The problem of leaves connected to childbirth, a burden for both employers and women, will have less impact when the duties of child upbringing are equally divided between the mother and father. Women will not be perceived by employers as an employee who disappears for six months after childbirth then. Men will disappear too, because they will have to take parental leave, too. At the beginning in Sweden, where obligatory parental leaves for fathers have been introduced already long ago, only 6 per cent of men used this opportunity. Today it is 80 per cent, because otherwise the leave is lost. That is why the solutions that our parliament comes up with and that prolong maternity leaves actually push women out from the job market. Women, however, returning to work after giving birth to a child are better employees, more loyal towards the company, grateful that the employer has waited for their return.

What gave you the strength to try to break the glass ceiling?

Once I was told that many women in leadership positions, like Hillary Clinton or Cherie Blair are often graduates of all-girls schools. And I think there is some truth in it. I was in an all-girls class myself. School is a time when your personality takes shape and in all-girl environments there is no direct gender competition, no rigid categorization into female and male roles. This helps to create leader’s features in women. And in fact quite a few of my classmates have been very successful in their lives. In addition, I was also the oldest kid in my family and my parents were very young. My mom was 18 when I was born. When she was a child she was put to forced labour in Germany and was forced to catch up with her education only after the war. Actually, she was studying at the same time as I was. Meanwhile, because of my seniority, I very quickly became like a third parent. As a result a lot of decisions were mine to make, I was the one who was responsible. And bearing responsibility – instead of being overprotected – is a good exercise in playing adult roles. This is also how I was trying to bring up my own children.

You have managed to combine a professional career with being a mother. This is very difficult for many women.

I always say that the right balance is the most important thing in life. Of course, you cannot plan everything in advance, but there are such phases that you need to focus either on your home life or your career. It was easier when I was younger because, as I keep saying, it was as if people only pretended to work then. Both me and my husband were doing research, so we had enough time to raise our kids ourselves. We also had an easy access to the institutions that made it easier to combine professional and family life: day care centers, preschools, school. Everything close to home. This is something that we are struggling to return to today in Poland thanks to women’s pressure.

What is, then, your advice to women who do not have any access to day care centers, can barely afford a nanny and return home after their child’s bedtime?

I would say that you can have your career also when you are 50 years old, but you cannot really have a baby then. You cannot put aside your family for two years and then be back demanding their love. In life, just like in business, what counts most, is smart diversification of income. You can have various approaches to your investment portfolio: invest all you money just in one thing and potentially earn a lot, but maybe lose everything. You can also split your portfolio. In this case, you may not have a great profit, but your investment is much safer. It is similar in life. If you have invested in your family and something happens not to work out on your job, you can still make a nice cake and have a great evening. Because you will have people around you. There is nothing worth sacrificing everything for.

Henryka Bochniarz
A renowned figure of Poland’s economic and social life. Doctor of economics and certified management consultant. Minister of Industry and Trade in the government of Jan Krzysztof Bielecki. Vice-President of Boeing International since 2006. Founder and President of the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan, member of BUSINESSEUROPE, Europe’s largest employers’ organisation. Vice-Chairman of the Tripartite Committee for social and economic issues and the Best Practices Committee. Co-founder of the “Nike” Literary Award for the best book of the year. Holder of the Kisiel Award and the Andrzej Bączkowski Award for particular contribution to the development of social dialogue in Poland and action over political divisions. Decorated with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. Presidential candidate in 2005. Co-founder of the Women’s Congress in Poland.

Aleksandra Pawlicka
journalist in the weekly Wprost. Author of the book Czas na kobiety about organizing the first Women’s Congress and a biographical study on Jerzy Stuhr Historie rodzinne. She is working on a book consisting of interviews with leading women in Poland’s public sphere. She is a traveler who with her husband, Jacek Pawlicki, a Gazeta Wyborcza journalist, visited 45 countries – the number that is also her age. Recently, they travelled by truck across Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe). They have two sons

 

Added: 3 listopada 2011 Category: General
 
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