'We work twice as hard to prove our abilities': empowering female entrepreneurs in the Czech Republic

The first Czech chapter of the global Future Females initiative is giving women tools to succeed in male-dominated sectors.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 18.01.2021 14:37:00 (updated on 19.01.2021) Reading time: 9 minutes

In 2020, the Czech Republic scored 56 percent on the Gender Equality Index, a measure of gender-equality in the EU that factors in a range of indicators in the areas of work, money, knowledge, time, power, and health to determine a country's progress toward gender equality.

The latest ranking reflects slow progress in the Czech Republic: with 56.2 out of 100 points, the nation ranks 23rd on the Gender Equality Index; its score of 11.7 points is beneath the EU average. Since 2010, that score has increased a mere 0.6 points. And the country’s ranking has dropped by nine places since 2010.

But Dimana Mabhena and Barbora Langer, women in business and ambassadors for the Czech Republic's first chapter of the global initiative Future Females, remain hopeful.

"Over the last decade, we experienced a big shift in business in the Czech Republic, especially when it comes to female startups or company founders," said Langer.

Future Females is devoted to working toward that change via talks and community- building events geared toward helping support female entrepreneurship in the Czech Republic.

In advance of their upcoming online event, we spoke to Mabhena and Langer about the obstacles women face in the Czech Republic as entrepreneurs and why the country needs a chapter of Future Females now more than ever.

Why does the Czech Republic need a chapter of Future Females?

Dimana: In 2019 Czech the Czech Republic ranked 21st of 28 countries in the EU in gender inequality [this year it ranks 23rd]. This ranking alone is reason enough to start a chapter here and contribute to improving these statistics by educating and empowering more women to start their own business rather than settle for a low paid job (another statistic that needs addressing). 

Dimana Mabhena, Czech ambassador to Future Females
Dimana Mabhena, Czech ambassador to Future Females

Name some female-led Czech companies we should know about.

Barbora: A nice example is Dita Přikrylová, founder of non-profit organization Czechitas, which is focused on educating women as well as kids in technology. Since 2014 they have had more than 20K participants successfully finish their courses in the academy.

Another excellent role model is Simona Kijonková who is the CEO of the well-known logistic and technological start up Zásilkovna. She is an inspirational example as her background and childhood were not the easiest. But she still had this calling to become an entrepreneur. Her tech start up Zásilkovna is not only a logistics company, but a renowned Czech brand.

Barbora Langer, Czech ambassador to Future Females
Barbora Langer, Czech ambassador to Future Females

According to data shared by Future Females, women-led companies can see greater financial returns than male ones; do you think money is what it will take to spark a dynamic shift in the Czech Republic?

Dimana: If we take the U.S. as an example and we leave the numbers to speak for themselves, we can say that companies with a female appointed CEO outperformed the ones with male appointed one by 20% (report by S&P Global in 2019). We can also say that a gender diverse board of directors can lead to greater financial benefits for investors.

I can't see why this wouldn't apply here in the future. However, a lot of the shift has to do with the mentality and the organizational culture of a company. The ones that are open to diversity and empowerment on all company levels will be the ones outperforming in the long run. These new approaches lead to better run organizations that benefit everyone – companies, employees and economies. 

The Czech Republic is always touted as a great country for tech entrepreneurs. But women have historically faced challenges cracking into these sectors. What obstacles do female entrepreneurs in the Czech Republic face?

Barbora: The IT and tech industries are generally considered to be male industries. So are finances, manufacturing and development. On the other hand we have the “female” industries of retail, recreation, and hospitality. We want to remove that division and send the message that if a woman feels confident to set up a financial or management consulting business, then it is ok to do so.

The bigger problem here is that only about 3% of startup investments go to women, which is a shocking statistic. Tackling this would be an amazing achievement and is part of our plans for the future. This needs to be supported by a general shift in mindset, where investors embrace the possibility that a woman can be very successful in a male industry if given the chance. 

Future Females headquarters team.
Future Females headquarters team.

What opportunities are there for businesswomen on the local market and how has the pandemic thrown us additional challenges when it comes to starting a business or improving one's career standing?

Barbora: I call last year ‘’The Year’’. Everyone can translate it on her/his own, but we can all agree that what happened across the globe was unexpected and shocking. It is really individual how the pandemic situation impacted our life, work, family, kids, and free time. We have all been affected and it was up to each one of us to deal with the situation and what steps we took to overcome it. Many talented women around me were motivated by the challenging situation to come up with an idea and tried to bring it to life.

There are many challenges we face when starting a business and we need to be smart about the segment we are targeting and the project/products we are introducing. Certain industries, such as manufacturing, retail and hospitality, were impacted more than others so we need to be conscious of the consumer we are targeting with our idea. Currently it is impossible to meet, connect, or discuss things by person, which could be very challenging when starting a business. 

How critical is in-person networking to career success in the Czech Republic? Do Zoom meetings actually have an impact?

Dimana: Networking itself won't make your career because your progress depends entirely on you and your determination. Networking, however, is important because it can open doors to people and opportunities where you least expect them.

Simply because we can't gather together on a Thursday night doesn't mean we can't be motivated enough to join an online event after work, with a glass of wine and listen to our guest speakers share incredible content, applicable in real life.  

During quarantine I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn and it is a great way to introduce myself and my work to those I feel it would be relevant. Zoom meetings and online events are not our first choice because nothing beats personal connection but it is incredible how fast we have all accommodated to these new circumstances.

Share some success stories about how this project has helped elevate and empower women.

Dimana: Since its start in 2017 Future Females has acquired more than 200 contributors in 38 cities worldwide so I think this is a success story in itself. It was founded by two women who wanted to make a change with the idea to give first, take second.

Building a global team which operates and communicates with each other on a daily basis, supporting each othe's side hustles and communicating an idea that we all believe in feels like a great achievement.

Future Females headquarters team.
Future Females headquarters team.

If we have to be specific, however, I would say that our Business School contributes greatly to female business development. We have more than 500 graduates globally and many of them have already established and are running their businesses successfully after the program.

What are the most important job skills to have on the Czech job market in the future and why? How can you acquire these skills or "upgrade" your CV in the Czech Republic especially now during the pandemic?

Barbora: We all experienced what seemed impossible a couple years ago becoming possible within a couple months. Home office was something we were afraid to ask for even if it was mentioned in our list of benefits. Today we are working from home every day and it became the new normal.

Technologies are key for success. Not to be an IT expert but have the basic knowledge of performance marketing, sales tools, programs and apps which are usually required for the job. Knowledge of coding, graphic programs, web creation, video editing etc are the skills which will be beneficial more and more.

My suggestion is to have a healthy FOMO approach, meaning be curious about what is new, what is happening and how to use your time deliberately. Instead of watching TV, do an online course or attend a webinar. Sign up for relevant newsletters which serve daily updates in the area you are interested in. What drives me is that there is always something that I do not know and I can learn more about. The best way to keep your mind and skill set fresh is to never stop learning.

Are women held back by sexual harassment and the gender pay gap in this country? Are female entrepreneurs in the Czech Republic at a disadvantage?

Dimana: I think gender stereotypes play a bigger role here along with the gender pay gap. The traditional patriarchal model together with the assumption of what kind of jobs are suitable for men and women is something that presents a challenge when we talk about disadvantages.

I know first hand the struggle of coming back to work from maternity leave and having to deal with demotion, decreased pay and the fact that I will have to work twice as hard to prove my abilities because my priorities have shifted. This disparity is something that I feel very strongly about and is something I`m determined to address. 

Barbora: I personally have never faced any issue at my work when it comes to sexual harassment, however I know that it is happening, and we need to talk about it. Gender pay gap is unfortunately still here and I do not feel it will change soon, or fast enough. What I do see as a disadvantage for women is long maternity leave, which is up to three years in the Czech Republic. I'm not disputing the benefits of such maternity leave for the family but rather how it is perceived in the work environment. As soon as women are at a certain age without kids, in many companies and businesses the selection is easier when there is a talented young man who doesn't pose any risk.

Unfortunately, there is the assumption that the woman will eventually have children and leave for an extended period of time, which reflects badly on her. Many women perceive this as a career suicide. It is putting us in a position that we need to fight more, show better performance and work harder, just to prove that we can be as efficient as before. I have lived in the Netherlands and am currently living in Germany and no one is commenting on personal life or family in relation to work performance. I wish to address this here as well. 

What are some upcoming Future Female events to highlight and who is your primary demographic? Why are your main messages in English?

Dimana: The reason we chose English as our main language is because we are a representing a global organization locally. We believe that young women in the Czech Republic are modern, educated, and open to a program that uses English as the main language. On Jan. 25 we are hosting an event with two incredible speakers: Blake Wittman, European Business Director of GoodCall and Bozena Rezab, CEO and Co-Founder of Gamee.

Together we will discuss the shift of talent economy, hiring, and working with millennials and GenZ, human resource trends, and building teams for startup and corporate companies. We are very excited to bring these two incredible professionals to our audience.

To attend the Jan. 25 online Future Females event register here. To learn more about how to join the Czech chapter of Future Females visit the FF website.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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