<strong>INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF WOMEN IN BUSINESS. <em>An interview with </em></strong><strong><em>Edyta Ziajowska, Head of Sales Poland & CEE w Angloville</em></strong>

INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF WOMEN IN BUSINESS. An interview with Edyta Ziajowska, Head of Sales Poland & CEE w Angloville

Women in Poland, over the next several years, have a real chance to participate in leadership and increase their importance in business, just like men. At every turn in my life, I thought Do I really want this? If the answer is yes, you find a way.”  Ruth Bader Ginsburg

What causes the lack of promotion of women to the highest positions in management boards?

The lack of promotion of women to the top positions in management boards is a common phenomenon. There are about 13%-16% of women on the boards of large companies. According to the Deloitte report “Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective”, women are at the helm of approx. 6% of listed companies and each year we observe a slow increase in this share on average by 1-2 percentage points. In addition, the larger the companies, the fewer women on the boards. The phenomenon of this disproportionality is caused by several factors. I will mention only three main ones here.

Firstly, stereotypes and biases, often unconscious. In the well-known publication by Mary Ann Sieghart: “THE AUTHORITY GAP – Why women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it”, the author refers to research that clearly shows that the same view expressed by a man is treated by the recipient much more seriously and credibly than when a woman would say. In the eyes of the recipient, a woman, due to culturally and socially imprinted stereotypes, never comes across as well as a man. This also applies to female recipients, who value the lines spoken by a man-authority, who seems to be more trustworthy. At the declarative level, we treat the statement of a woman and a man equally, in practice the man performs better.

Prejudged employers are afraid to employ women and invest in them, because they believe that if women give birth to children, they will not focus on work, but on family and juggling roles, and this is not always successful. No one looks at the research that presents what women-mothers bring to business and what leadership competences motherhood develops: e.g. management, resilience, emotional and social intelligence. From the experience of my professional career, I can confirm that for the first time I became a Director and a member of the operating board, after the birth of my first child. Before that, however, I had been made redundant after returning to my previous work, although during the pregnancy (not yet visible) I was promoted. Motherhood strengthened my resistance to stress and gave me determination to achieve my goals. I am grateful to my daughter Ala and my son Aleksander for this experience. It is not without reason that Simon Sinek in his speeches “Leadership is like Parenting” compares good leadership to parenthood. At the same time, it is worth remembering that, as the estimates show, motherhood delays a woman’s career on average by 3 years.

Secondly, the lack of quotas does not help this situation. Women do not constitute a critical mass, so their positive impact on business and the social environment is seen point by point and not systemically. It has been calculated that without statutory support, it will take about 30 years for the organic growth of the share of women in management boards to a critical mass. This illustrates the key role of quotas which should be supported by law as women need them.That is why the European Union came to the rescue in 2022. It has been established that there will have to be at least 40% women on non-executive boards of large 250+ companies, and 33% on executive boards and director positions. However, the quotas will not come into force until 2026, i.e. in 3 years. The parity is supposed to concern the “underrepresented gender”, in practice women. For comparison, in 2021 women on the boards of companies in the EU accounted for an average of 30.6%, although the proportions were different in individual countries. Poland is still far down the list. This situation should slowly change. Many CEOs who oppose quotas, arguing that it is difficult to find women with the required skills, will be obliged to look for such candidates. Research shows that such women are available on the market and open to new challenges, you just need to be willing to find them.

Thirdly, the implementation of Diversity & Inclusion in companies leaves much to be desired. Although it has been proven that the increase in diversity in the company translates not only into its financial results, but also into innovative thinking, the implementation of diversity takes place at the level of lower positions, but not top management.

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

Yes, women are too shy to compete for top positions. Men do not want to give up their power, positions and privileges that they have earned over the years. And you can’t be surprised. Personally, more than once I have experienced a situation where, despite the fact that I had better results than my colleagues, I had to compete with them even more in terms of content to be recognized for my position. Then gentlemen can effectively unite and use the power of the social capital they have built. It’s worth learning from men. Research shows that men are more satisfied with their work and convinced of their agency. A man applies for a higher position when he meets about 60% of the requirements, assuming that the remaining 40% will quickly catch up in the new role. A woman wants to meet 100% of expectations, but even then she is not sure if she will manage. The McKinsey report confirms the sad business reality for women, in which men are promoted for potential and women for solid success. This approach also makes women disbelieve in their professionalism. Theoretically, they are successful, but perhaps too little, because a man with the potential for greater success will be promoted.

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

This is quite an interesting issue. Theoretically, it is women who have better developed social ties, they are active in associations and foundations. They build networking, which translates into trust and business. They are making better use of their network of contacts. Men, creating social capital, do it more selectively and accurately. They invest their time more pragmatically, focusing on trade-offs and a specific profit. Women build a lot of horizontal bonds because that’s how they historically lived in communities when men hunted. Men are focused on vertical ties, which are a ladder to climb higher in the professional hierarchy. This is a tip for women to care not only about the relationships themselves, but also about their quality, bearing in mind where they can lead them further in their careers.

Have you met a business mentor in your life, someone who helped you stand out?

I was lucky to meet some very good mentors on my business path. They were the ones who showed me that they had already been there and it was not worth going there. I remember with respect my last mentor, a man. He got up very early in the morning for our meetings, due to the time difference, and with full commitment tried to share with me the best practices and tell me what he believed in. It was thanks to him that I implemented solutions that brought success in the times of a pandemic. I am grateful to him. I strongly believe in the power of mentoring and coaching, which is why I have been a mentor and coach in business for over 10 years, for both women and men, sharing my experience and knowledge. I am especially proud that my mentee and coachee achieve their goals, get promoted and go boldly forward. Increasingly, they also have the support of their partners and families. I also received such support. This is an invaluable experience.

Leadership, especially the new one, has many facets. Does the future of leadership belong to women?

In my opinion, the future of leadership belongs to those leaders – women and men who will be able to build their resilience and stability, and thus have a good insight into their organization. I am a believer in mindful leadership and leadership with integrity. Through mindfulness, leaders develop the ability to cope with stress and access their own potential. They become more effective, manage themselves and teams better, which translates into the development of the company. Such leaders will be promoted faster and will enter the top management. Women will have a lot to say here.

I believe that women in Poland, during the next several years, have a real chance to participate in leadership and increase their importance in business, just like men. Behind women are natural leadership talents, mindfulness, openness to changes and new technologies, increasing help from partners and support of quotas. All these elements will help in building a critical mass and ultimately a sustainable business. Let’s follow Ruth Bader Ginsburg who used to say: “At every turn in my life, I thought – Do I really want this? – If the answer is yes, you will find a way.”

Edyta Ziajowska, manager, who has built a successful track record of international business experience. She demonstrates over 20 years of leadership, management and commercial experience from the companies in the digital transformation (e.g. Edenred, PayU, PwC) and Vital Voices Poland (Board member 2012-15). Currently, Head of Sales Poland & CEE in Angloville, part of the group of entities, the leaders of the language education sector in Poland and Central Europe. According to Financial Times 2022, in the group of 50 fastest growing companies in Europe.

For 6 years, Mentor & Coach of the Business Leaders Foundation and Humanites Foundation. She supported, as a Mentor, the development of leadership for Polish and Eurasian women in the Vital Voices program. Her personal interests are related to the area of mindful leadership and its impact on creating an effective business environment. Certified MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) teacher (Europe & USA), recommended by The Polish Institute of Mindfulness. The author of development programs for management.

Edyta graduated from the University of Warsaw with Masters degrees both in Economics (in cooperation with the Columbia University) and Journalism & Political Science. A graduate of Marketing Program by St. George College, Toronto and Science of Well-Being by Yale University.

Last Updated on March 8, 2023 by Anastazja Lach