Empowering women in the workplace can fuel the Czech economy, says study

A sweeping new study of the CEE region highlights the economic potential of empowering women in the workplace.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas
Published on 24.09.2021 19:00 (updated on 25.09.2021)

Empowering women in the workplace could potentially unlock as much as €146 billion annual in GDP for the CEE region, says a new study focused on the economic potential of a gender-balanced society across seven Central and European countries.

McKinsey's Win-win: How empowering women can benefit Central and Eastern Europe maps the cost of gender disparity in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic. The report details how these countries overlook an important source of competitiveness in a region that's losing economic momentum.

The Czech Republic alone stands to increase its gross domestic product (GDP) by about half a trillion crowns, a third of this year's state budget revenues, by putting more women in the workforce by 2030. So what, if anything, is currently being done to address gender disparity in the Czech Republic?

Gender expert Lenka Simerská, head of the Czech Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ Project 22% EQUALITY is optimistic but says the country still has a long way to go in terms of equality. She said the study's emphasis on the benefits of gender equality is a great starting point for a discussion of change.

"Gender pay gap is still huge in specific groups of women, biggest among the age group 30-45, for university graduates and in top management," she told us. "The more a woman invests in herself and the higher she climbs, the more she loses in pay."

"The more a woman invests in herself and the higher she climbs, the more she loses in pay."

Lenka Simerská, gender expert

While the study lists a number of obstacles facing career-minded women in the Czech Republic, among them lack of flexible work and daycare options and unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities, Simerská said that one stereotype is particularly entrenched in Czech society.

"Many Czech employers still perceive female employees as having less value than male employees," she said, citing wage transparency as one of the biggest drivers of the gender pay gap.

"Transparency is a set of rules and tools for everyone to know what the pay range is for specific roles," said Simerská whose 22% EQUALITY offers companies a free wage gap measurement tool developed by the Swiss government that it hopes could eventually be used as part of the public procurement process.

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The study not only debunks some of the persistent myths surrounding the perceived value of women in the workplace but also the idea that women don't value career advancement as much as men.

Conducting detailed interviews with 30 senior executives across thousands of companies with more than 500 employees in the Czech Republic, researchers found that 47 percent of female employees are interested in leadership positions; a quarter of them aspire to the highest managerial roles.

While the past five years have seen a shift in attitude toward gender disparity ("People are no longer openly laughing about the idea," Simerská said) women still hold just 27 percent of managerial positions in the Czech Republic. Eleven percent of the country's top executives are women, and only four percent are CEOs. 

In stark contrast, in Scandinavia, women run a quarter of companies, with 36 percent holding management roles. The share of university students is roughly the same as in the Czech Republic where women make up 63 percent of university graduates and 44 percent of women actively participate in the workforce.

The study concludes that the way forward for these regions is to implement measures that reconcile work and family, greater involvement of men in childcare, career support, and the guidance of women to fields with higher added value and education.

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Simerská said that EU directives slated to become part of Czech law over the next few years will help the country follow the trajectory of gender-pay-gap reduction.

"I think now the Czech Republic is taking the right path to reduce its gender pay gap. We know what exactly causes the problem, and we have tools for all levels and actors in the solution."

She believes what comes next will depend on the new Czech government.

"They will have to choose a strategy for lowering the pay gap, decide on the first real binding measures. If they leave it as is they stand the risk of international corporations following top-down policies from abroad while here in Czech society nothing changes."

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