Business places a premium on competence, not gender. Mariola Bryk, Finance Manager at Vandemoortele

Business places a premium on competence, not gender. Mariola Bryk, Finance Manager at Vandemoortele

What causes the lack of promotions of women to the highest positions?

Women who have risen to the highest positions are valued for what they bring – empathy, negotiation skills, listening to others, making decisions.

Lack of promotion can be caused by blockages that women have and which are the result of upbringing, environment, prejudices and, above all, lack of self-confidence.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg ( ex  US Judge, died in 2020), said: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

Women often don’t believe they have something to offer; that they have knowledge, experience, that someone else will recognize them as an expert. They are loyal, they focus on doing their job well (our perfectionism!) and are afraid to take risks for their career.

The approach “I’ll take a risk, even though I’m not convinced I’m 100% fit for it” is not a standard one for women.  Men have much  less of a problem with this. They don’t have to feel completely confident and they will apply for the promotion anyway.  And they  will communicate in advance that they are counting on this promotion.  Women don’t know how to take care of their careers.  We want to have a job well done.

We must be able to show ourselves – what and how  we do, where we add value to the  company, where we achieve success. We must expose these successes and demand appreciation. This is a change of stereotypes and without  the action of  women themselves, no one will automatically take notice of our successes.

I think it is also partly the fault of the fear that it will not work out, that “I won’t be good enough”. Women have too few authority figures among other women.  Of the Fortune 500 companies, only 8% of CEOs are women.  They do great, but they are closely watched and compared to companies managed by men.  This situation does not give a sense of equality.

We need more women in science, award winners, in new technologies and on company boards, so that young women entering the career path can draw inspiration from these authorities .

Are women’s businesses much more difficult than men’s businesses to obtain financing from investors?

It depends on the situation and the skills a woman has. There are many women who can negotiate, who can sell their ideas, present them properly, so as to attract the attention of investors and show their passion.

You need self-confidence, great knowledge  about your product or service, the ability to talk about  the goal you want to achieve and about your vision. If a woman focuses on good communication and strengthens presentation skills, she has the same chances of obtaining financing as a man.

Women are afraid to talk about their ideas, but you need to build relationships with investors at the idea stage. This builds trust. You have to ask questions, ask for advice, seek help. With such a foundation, obtaining financing will look the same for women as for men.

Why are men twice as likely as women to start startups?

I think there is a  sense of responsibility at play here. In a startup, there is a high risk of failure.  We know how many  startups fail out of 10 emerging ones, how many will not survive the next 3 years.  Women have a home, a family, children on their minds,  and they spend a lot more time on this chapter of their lives than men—generally speaking, of course.  A startup requires sacrifices, hard work, devoting time to organizing activities in the company, obtaining financing.

It takes  a lot of energy, gaining knowledge.  It is a matter of attitude, getting to know the startup environment (you don’t have to create a unicorn right away), motivation and self-confidence.  You don’t immediately have all the knowledge about startups. But you can slowly gain it and seek support from people who already have such knowledge.

 Is there a wage gap and if so, where is it most visible?

The gender pay gap has existed for some 50 years. In Europe it is about 13%, in Poland between 10% and 14%. Recently, the European Parliament supported the provisions on transparency and equal pay, so theoretically within 3-5 years we should have a new law and a chance to equalize pay. But I don’t think the process will go that fast.

The pay gap is most visible at the higher levels of the hierarchy, where women are the fewest. In addition, women have breaks at work due to childbirth, maternity leave or childcare. This also contributes to lower wages for women.

A new generation that has recently entered the labor market can contribute to change by openly signaling that wage inequality is unacceptable.

In addition to a clear wage gap in strictly male industries, requiring physical strength, the gap is also very visible in the IT industry, where men dominate and are better paid (of course, as everywhere,  there are exceptions).

Women often accept the fact that they earn less and ask for lower salaries during recruitment interviews. It is again a stereotype that women have always earned less. Men are better at negotiating and negotiating hard. I’ve often heard that what you don’t negotiate at the beginning, you won’t get later. For women, this approach is more rare.

Is there still a stereotypical, conservative gender division of roles?

It depends in what environment. But I meet  people (both men and women) who look at the world in a very traditional way.  If  this approach is valid in the family, it is often passed on the younger  generations.  Of course, our character or environment can change  stereotypes.

Sometimes stereotypes are so ingrained that even if a woman could get a promotion and build her career, she is blocked not only by a partner with a conservative approach to life roles, but also by herself.  The human mentality change takes a long time.

A girl is still expected to be polite, not to dominate, not to discuss. This translates later into adult life. Boys, even if they mess up, are seen as  well coping little troublemakers.  Proactivity in  women is seen as aggressiveness, in men as proof of leadership skills. This is the attitude that we take from home and from the educational process.

What is your approach to quotas? Do they help women or are they simply not needed?

Parities are an artificial creation. People should have the same access to positions, education, career building. Competences, experience, skills, predispositions should count, not gender or quotas.

However, counting on everyone to have the same understanding of a balanced distribution of positions is a daydream. In many companies, men have always been in charge, and they struggle to let women into their areas of power.

That is why today quotas are a good solution to the problem of the gender gap. Many larger companies have already benefited from them and see a positive impact of such a change. Also on the results of the company.

In Poland, according to Eurostat, women account for 44% of managerial positions, but only 24.7% of senior positions, in management boards it is 12.6% and 17.3% in supervisory boards.

Although quotas have been controversial, it also turns out that they are a way to quickly change the presence of women in senior positions. Therefore, for the time being, they are necessary and useful. Companies benefit from them and through a greater presence of women they have a more innovative environment, effectively run businesses, an empathetic approach to colleagues and a diverse outlook and ideas.

The “Global Gender Gap Report 2020” shows that Eastern European countries, including Poland, need 107 years to achieve gender equality. So we still have a lot to do.

Will a man, if it depends on him to decide on promotion, bet more on a man because he thinks that it will be easier for him to get along with him than with a woman?

It depends on the person, his openness to diverse views, management, a different way of thinking. From my experience in my company, I can say that we focus on competences and skills, not on gender.

But in companies with a conservative approach to women’s roles, this can happen. However, this is a short-sighted action, not only because of the opportunity to acquire talent full of innovative approach, authenticity, good leadership, but also critical assessment of external players: especially suppliers and customers, who more and more often observe whether the company meets ESG requirements, what it does in this direction, whether it has diverse teams, whether all employees are included in the activities, etc.

Are women too shy to compete for top positions? Maybe they don’t realize their professionalism?

Women have self-limiting behaviors and believes that prevent them from pursuing careers and competing for senior positions. First of all, they have too little self-confidence. They think that if they work well, someone will notice, appreciate it, offer a promotion. And yet it almost never works that way.

I once heard such a story. A boss from the USA offered a well-performing Polish manager a promotion to a higher, responsible position.  She was  very hesitant to accept the offer because she thought she might not be able to handle it. A more experienced colleague told her: “First say “YES” and then you will think  how you will cope.”  It worked and the manager was very successful. But this is not a standard behavior. It rather characterizes a masculine approach.

Sally Helgesen in her great book “How Women Rise” writes that women have 12 habits that are an obstacle to achieving their goals.  These are, among others,  reluctance to claim your achievements, overvaluing expertise, just building rather than building and leveraging relationships, the perfection trap, the disease to please, minimizing, ruminating  and letting your radar distract you.

Working on these habits, even just some of them, will help change the situation. It’s best to start with one habit. Small steps will allow you to practice changing your behavior until it becomes a new habit.

How do women create social capital in their careers, how do they use networks? Do they care less about them than men?

Women care less about the use of contacts.  Maybe it’s because they’re afraid they’ll be misjudged as taking advantage of others.  They are happy to make friends, but later they do not follow-up with deeper networking, subsequent meetings,  requests for advice, support or mentoring.

Such behavior may be the result of character, lack  of self-confidence, lack of vision of one’s goal or simple shyness.

Building social capital requires getting out of your comfort zone.  Not everyone likes it and is ready for it. But in small steps, at the right time, you can expand this zone and choose the right contacts so that they bring benefits to both parties.

What qualities did you exhibit during your school years, were you active in local governments, were you a class president, etc.?

I’m an introvert who  learned  how to  be an ambivert. At school I had my circle of friends.  I felt good with them, safe.  In college, I was active in a student organization, but I was not the president.  It was only after a few years of work that I began to appreciate my skills of attentive listening, wide view of many things and phenomena and  drawing conclusions, decision making, empathy, understanding and tolerance for diversity in others.    These qualities help me a lot in building trusted teams, collaborating and being an authentic leader.

Have you met a mentor on your way of business life, someone who helped you stand out?

I was not so lucky, which is a pity because it helps a lot.

Currently, there is increasing talk about mentoring and many people use it. I believe that this is an excellent way to learn from other, more experienced people. In my opinion, mutual learning (mentoring and reverse mentoring) is best. Today, different generations can learn from each other – managing people, good communication, cooperation, mutual respect, but also new technologies, life balance, taking care of their psyche and health.

It is becoming more and more difficult to find an authority, but it is worth looking for and it is worth asking for support. For example, through increasingly better available mentoring programs.

Are women open to new technologies and how do they deal with them?

Women are very open to new technologies. They learn programming, use new applications, solutions, programs. Increasingly, women also work in IT companies and are doing great there.

Women also observe what is needed by other women and create startups that use new technologies. Recently, I have been following the development of “Mamenolife” portal for pre- and menopausal women. It was founded by two thriving women who successfully fought for financial support in the Huawei Startup Challenge.

Only imagination limits us!

Does it work in favor of women that the most important features of a good leader, i.e. empathy, understanding, pro-social view of the organization are features attributed to women?

Yes, definitely. Where women enter management boards, supervisory boards, or are appointed to high positions, not only can we see a change in business for the better, but also a change in people management, increased trust, openness and a broad view of the environment (women’s radar).

We can also see examples of female leadership at the highest level – in Finland, until recently in New Zealand, Estonia, Denmark, Lithuania. It is these qualities: empathy, courage, openness, the ability to listen, tolerance for diversity that make women cope better not only during the crisis (pandemic) but also outside it. Women pay attention to details, listen to what others say, they are more interested in the good of the public rather than their own “I”. 

Educated, conscious women want the world to be a better place and as leaders they can achieve this goal.

AI is good at analytics or finances, but it doesn’t have emotional intelligence. Does the future of leadership therefore belong to women?

The future of leadership belongs to good leaders.  Authenticity, courage, sensitivity to other people are  human skills (called by some “soft skills”). Women are more emotional than men, which can work in their favor or disadvantage, depending on how they manage these emotions.

Leadership should be shared between women and men. There is no one solution that will always work for everyone. You need to assess what are the needs in the organization, what the situation looks like and what kind of  competencies we are looking for at the very moment.

A leader should build trust, openness, respect, credibility, but he should also have a vision  of where the company is going and how to get there.

And I agree  with Simon Sinek’s approach that there are companies that are players  in finite games  with fixed rules, known participants,  defined goals and winner/loser result, and those that play infinite games that anyone can join, with  known and unknown players, with changing rules,  where the goal is to play as long as possible.  

The future belongs to leaders who play the infinite game. They are not fighting to win, but to thrive and  be in the game for as long as possible.  They focus on their mission. And it does not matter whether the leader is a woman or a man.

Mariola Bryk

Financial manager with more than 20 years of experience in various industries.
She has managed finance, IT and HR in companies: Reuters, Soraya, Tatra Spring, Sequoia. Currently, at Vandemoortele, she is responsible for finance in four countries in Central Europe.

He is passionate about finding solutions in various areas of the company’s operations, and the topic of leadership. She supports boards of directors in day-to-day activities, implementation of budgets and strategic plans. Fascinated by active listening and bringing out from people their highest potential. She believes that the basis for success and good cooperation is communication at the highest level. Graduate of the Cracow University of Economics.

Last Updated on May 30, 2023 by Janusz Gil