We still have a lot to do. And not just for women. Interview with Agnieszka Porębska, CEO of Talent Alpha

We still have a lot to do. And not just for women. Interview with Agnieszka Porębska, CEO of Talent Alpha

Why aren’t there more women being promoted to top positions?

Many women are not promoted due to a lack of opportunities or because of their own decision not to pursue career advancement. There are a significant number of reasons why this is the case. However, I think we should change our thinking from the standard “we need more women in high positions” to “we should create conditions in organizations that would allow for the best use of women’s potential which would offer them the best possible conditions for development as well as satisfying work.” This does not always have to mean promotions and taking on top positions. It seems to me that the topic of so-called quotas means that much more important issues in organizations may not be discussed. In a mature organization, it shouldn’t matter what gender you identify with, what colour your skin is, what personality you have or where you come from. As long as you carry out your responsibilities well and have the potential to grow, your company, if it is managed wisely, should provide you with the kind of opportunities for both parties to thrive. However, this process requires mature leadership, an organizational culture based on clear, transparent and equal rules for all, a good understanding of each person’s strengths and weaknesses, internal and external conditions as well as motivation. Today, the motivation is possible, among other things, through the use of Talent Intelligence tools. Unfortunately, in many companies progress in management standards, as well as the understanding of employees’ potential, stopped in the 1990s. More efforts should be made to improve the situation in these two areas.

Does Poland still have a stereotypical, conservative gender division of roles? How does this translate into women’s careers?

We certainly have a lot of work to do in this area. Traditional roles are very much entwined with the way we think, and act in society. For “unknown reasons”, men and women in many situations share responsibilities, roles or even space in an unconscious manner. An example would be company meetings, where men often occupy prominent seats and often speak, while many women sit on the sidelines. Another example might be social gatherings where men “hunt and cook steak” at a barbecue while women keep an eye on the children. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as we are willing to allow for change and are open to breaking this traditional behaviour, and sometimes even intentionally creating non-standard situations to give ourselves space for what is new.

However, I think that Poland’s situation is still good compared to many European countries, as well as other nations around the world. In my career, I have only occasionally encountered discrimination. Sometimes I even have the impression that today some men may feel more discriminated against than me. I have heard from some women working in companies in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, about the discriminatory behaviour of male managers toward women. I’m glad that I live in a country where women, at least in the circles in which I have worked, are valued. And even though we struggle with roles that are stuck deep in our subconscious, I’m glad that I encounter a lot of openness to women who go their own way.

Do women lack the feistiness to compete for top positions? Perhaps they are unaware of their competence?

I think many women either don’t feel competent enough to take on a high position or succumb to peer pressure. In a company where masculine qualities are valued, a woman may not feel “out of place.” It is worth mentioning here, however, that in many companies what is expected of many managers in top positions are activities in which women do not feel comfortable. Some companies often exclusively focus on the bottom line – often at the expense of employees – by prioritizing short-term gains over long-term benefits, competing fiercely with competitors, and expecting professional matters to be more important than personal matters. If a company or shareholders have their priorities set in such a manner, only a small percentage of women will be able to climb the career ladder. The good thing is that there are organizations which see their business operations differently, and as a consequence, women can have more opportunities to “spread their wings.” On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that companies have the right to fight for market share in difficult trading conditions or for investors to attain the best possible financial results. It is worth mentioning, however, that studies show that the participation of women in the management positively correlates with the performance of companies. This would suggest that a conscious change in a company’s culture and its entire approach to business can ultimately translate into even better business results.

How important is education in shaping future women leaders? In your opinion, should something be changed in the current curricula so that women will have more opportunities to develop in the future?

I dream of a school that fascinates and brings out a student’s potential – both intellectually and emotionally, regardless of gender or other characteristics. I am very much counting on new technologies and artificial intelligence here. Of course, we have to be very careful in their use, but with them, we do have the opportunity to better understand a child’s characteristics as well as needs, and then tailor an individualized curriculum for them. I believe that we can create a teaching system in which both girls and boys will develop their self-confidence and abilities, while building suitable career paths for them. Under such conditions, many great female and male leaders can emerge.

Has success in business changed you?

First of all, like probably many women, I don’t feel that I have achieved any great success (laughs). Of course, I’m happy with my position, the appreciation I get from those around me and the work that I do. But I have a constant sense of inadequacy and a belief that I could have done so many things better. I think this is a common trait among many women – we focus much more on the difficulties than on the positives and what we have accomplished. That’s why lately I’ve been trying to practice expressing my gratitude – to consciously thank, whether in my mind or out loud, other people and myself for challenging issues as well the good things.

I have certainly changed as a person since the start of my career. I always had the feeling that I could do great things. This attitude is down to my parents, who always believed in me and supported me. However, at the start of my career, I didn’t have a great deal of competence or knowledge to achieve my goals. Over 20 years of professional work, I have become proficient at my tasks and gained experience. The most important thing for me, however, is the ability to work with people – to understand customers, co-workers, subordinates, and to react quickly with them to a changing environment. This gives me a sense of strength, which is not only due to my competence, but is the result of interaction. Of course, in business it can be difficult and sometimes we even have to admit defeat, but the fact that we work together gives everyone the feeling that whatever happens is “okay,” and after difficulties we can get up and go on together or separately, but with a sense of mutual trust. When I started my career, I focused more on facts and tangible benefits. Today, relationships are more important to me. Of course, it is the result that matters to the company. However, positive relationships which allow us to improve a company’s performance over the long term, can continue long after we leave an organization.

Agnieszka Porębska – CEO Talent Alpha

Agnieszka has been the CEO of Talent Alpha since July 2019. The company is a talent marketplace and talent intelligence platform currently encompassing 900 companies from 52 countries, representing over 70,000 IT specialists. Agnieszka has been involved with the company since its beginnings, overseeing relationships with the company’s largest clients. With over 20 years of experience in executive positions, she previously worked with brands such as Luxoft, Capgemini, Infosys, and Xerox before joining Talent Alpha.

Agnieszka is an active member of business organizations in Poland, the USA, and the UK. She is a co-founder of the international organization, the Intelligent Leadership Hub, bringing together experts in leadership and the future of work. Agnieszka is also the author of the global annual report, The Future of Work Report. Additionally, she regularly conducts classes for students at the University of Economics in Krakow. Agnieszka graduated in Psychology from the University of Warsaw and completed the Negotiation and Mediation track at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences, UW.

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Anastazja Lach