Women’s success can come in more than one scenario. An interview with Ewa Wernerowicz, CEO of Soonly Finance.
Madam President, you have been managing a large financial institution for five years and recently became a shareholder. This is probably not a typical career path for a woman. What is the reason behind the lack of women being promoted to top positions?
There are a number of factors that contribute to a higher representation of men in top positions, but in my opinion the most important one is the social role of women. At the age when men make the biggest career progress, namely in their thirties, women tend to slow down their career progression, due to building a family and taking care of children. Once they are able to return to their business priorities, they find themselves in a much less favourable starting position to take up senior positions than their male colleagues. At the same time, some women give up their careers altogether and turn their attention to their families, hence the pool of candidates for top positions is dominated by men. However, my own example shows that being a woman is not a barrier at all. After returning to work from maternity leave, I consistently took on more and more responsibilities at work and increased my competences. So, I have never heard the accusation that this position is meant for a man, or that being a woman is an obstacle. Promotion decisions for me have always been based on merit alone. In contrast, another question is: do women want to take on extra risks, extra responsibility and extra working hours? It is obvious to anyone in a managerial position that in the evenings, if you are not working, it is very difficult not to think about business matters. You just have to enjoy it or at least accept it. And not all women want to live like that. I respect that and have a lot of appreciation for those who enjoy spending time with their families and having quiet evenings. A woman’s success can come in more than one scenario, not just climbing the career ladder.
Is this the reason why women are twice less likely than men to launch start-ups?
Basically, yes. Answering this question, one can refer to the innate characteristics of each gender. In the early stages of business development, the tendency to take risks and the ability to improvise, which is the domain of men, is more important. Women are greater perfectionists and are less likely to decide to launch a product that is not quite perfect enough. This kills innovation. My advice to start-up creators, on the other hand, is this: as soon as you raise the funds for a good managerial salary, hire a woman. You will see how many aspects of business development she will notice that men do not.
What is your take on gender quotas? Do they help or hinder women?
The quotas are an artificial creation which can only cause men to lose confidence in women. After all, we do not want a red light to go off for men whenever a woman takes on a new role in the company: ‘Was she really the best during the recruitment process or is she only here because of her gender?’ This is why I do not support quota-based staffing. To manage a company or part of it, you should recruit based on competence, because the success of the organisation depends on it. However, the role of women in business should be talked about and supported a lot. I remember my first appearance at the Economic Forum in Krynica in 2015. On the promenade, about 97 percent of the participants who passed by were men, and of the remaining three percent the majority acted as hostesses. After these few years, the proportions have changed completely and that is because we talk a lot about the role of women in business.
You mentioned the recruitment. Are women being too timid in competing for top positions? Perhaps they do not realise their own professionalism?
Yes, the studies confirm this. When applying for a position, women are not sufficiently confident in their competence, if they do not meet at least one of the criteria at 100%. Men are confident enough if they meet at least 50% of the criteria to any extent. There is a saying circulating among head-hunters that at the recruitment interviews men sell their visions and expectations and women sell their achievements. They will never win in that competition. That’s why they need to work on self-presentation and awareness of their capabilities. I would call it a healthy brazenness. This needs to be practised already by school-age girls.
Were you such a conscious adolescent?
Of course! I’ve been all over the place: on the school council, class council, the scouts, I was head of the student organisation at my university, I even sang psalms in a church. Recently I got my very first business card framed for my birthday with my position printed on it – the President of the AIESEC Local Committee. You could say I started my adult life from the position of president. It sounds cheeky for someone just out of high school, but being overly modest is much worse. My first job, still at the university, was my own travel agency. It ended just after 9/11, with the collapse of the WTC towers in New York. That event caused a plunge in tourism to the Arab countries, which were the main destination in the autumn back then. Entrepreneurship and leadership characterised me from a very young age.
Are women open towards new technologies? How are they handling them?
They are open. Of course, men are more technical and inherently interested in technological innovations. Women are inherently interested in people and relations, so it also doesn’t make sense for women to be forced and driven into jobs that involve sitting in front of a computer all day with zero interaction with other people. That sounds like a nightmare to many of them. And I know many men who are thrilled by such vision. That is why technology is more often developed by men. It is only at a later stage that women are needed, in order to make this technology a commercial success with their empathy, wide vision and understanding of emotions.
AI is doing just fine with analytics or finance, but it does not possess emotional intelligence. In light of this, does the future of leadership belongs to women?
Definitely yes. I even have a hypothesis that artificial intelligence will take away more jobs from men than from women. The innate skills of men will be easily replaced by AI. Authentic emotions cannot be generated by machines. The future belongs to us, women!
CEO of Soonly Finance sp. z o.o.
In March 2023, she acquired 100% of the shares in Soonly Finance (formerly Vivus) through a management buyout. A manager with many years of experience in international financial institutions. Fintech market expert. Member of the Council of Employers of the Republic of Poland. There, she is responsible for the area of cooperation between start-ups and corporations and the financial services ecosystem. She participated in the creation of new financial institutions on the Polish market – Polbank EFG, Citifinancial and Vivus, which became the market leader in loans and redefined the availability of online financing. She is an active promoter of the idea of authentic leadership and building corporate culture as a source of company success. She is a graduate of IESE Business School, the Warsaw School of Economics and the Gdynia Maritime University.
Last Updated on July 25, 2023 by Krzysztof Kotlarski