Innovative Women Shaping the Future - Sharing Expertise, Experience and Outlook of Irish, Czech and Slovak Women in Business.

Mary Keane and Andrea Chladkova, from our office in Prague, had the pleasure to be invited to this inspiring event:

As a main speaker, Niamh Donnelly, Co-founder & CRO of Akara Robotics shared her story of a female entrepreneurship and was leading the discussion on technology trends and necessity of innovations and adaptability.

It was an evening full of insightful discussions with exceptional women, special thanks to those leading the roundtable discussions:

Andrea Olejarova, Mondelēz International, Lenka Axlerová, Microsoft, Eva Prokesova, JTI (Japan Tobacco International), Aneta Martišková, Edenred Česká republika, Marta Siruckova, Katarína Krajčovičová, Tereza Zavadilova, Monika Mašková, Radka Ondráčková, Senta Čermáková, Erin Swan, Eva Čerešňáková, Lenka Šťastná LION.

The event was organised by the Embassy of Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, and Newstream at the residence of the Irish ambassador to the Czech Republic H.E. Cliona Manahan.



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Leadership communication is one of the most important factors influencing business success.  

‘Effective communication’ is not just a buzz phrase, it is one of the most important leadership traits and has a clear and critical impact on every organisation’s bottom line.

It’s been said that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. Whether true or not, it’s undeniable that leaders have a profound influence on employees. Leaders’ actions and attitudes have the power to drive employees to great success – or to drive them out of the door!

Engagement studies show that leaders and managers are accountable for 70% of employee motivation and happiness. Disengaged employees don’t understand how they fit into the culture, how managers view their performance, or where the company is headed. Three in four employees see effective communication as the number one leadership attribute. Yet, less than 30% feel like their leaders communicate efficiently.

Communication is one of the biggest drivers of employee engagement.

70% of the business leaders, reporting not being happy with their employees’ work, feel they need to improve how they communicate with their employees in order to resolve performance issues and improve motivation. Of the group that was happy with their team’s performance, 70% of the managers attributed this to the effective communication.

There is a clear positive correlation between employee engagement and the quality of workplace conversations.

Engagement was higher among employees who rated conversations with co-workers and managers as great or excellent. Employees who rated conversations with co-workers as bad had a particularly low level of employee engagement.

For many of us the biggest barrier to having high-quality conversations is that we’re afraid to share what we’re really thinking and feeling. We dance around the issues and don’t speak up when there is an opportunity to voice concerns. But a problem exists whether we talk about it or not.

Leaders need to provide opportunities to have meaningful and productive conversations which in turn encourage trust. Giving opportunity to safely share ideas, concerns or questions indicates that leaders truly care about their people. Additionally, when employees understand what is expected of them, feel their opinions matter, receive helpful feedback or recognition, and can talk about their career aspirations, they are more likely to be engaged.

Communication is important at every level of an organisation, but especially for leaders.

Their words resonate more and have more meaning and, unfortunately, so does their silence. Best leaders excel in communication because they strongly value it - and that’s the critical step and the foundation of success.

We spoke with Andrea, one of the Partners from our office in Prague, to ask her how she spends the holidays.

Unlike many other countries, our main Christmas celebration is on Christmas Eve  and it is called Generous Day (Štědrý den). A Christmas dinner is served just after the sunset and as everyone dines, Baby Jesus (Ježíšek) brings presents and leaves them under the Christmas Tree coming through the open window.

The tree is in a different room from the dining table and when children hear the bell ring, it means Ježíšek has been there. After the dinner, we gather around the Christmas tree to sing carols and open the presents. Dec 26th and 27th are days of visiting extended family and friends, or just relaxing.

Is it true that Czechs place fish scales under their plates for the Christmas dinner? Why?

Yes, it is believed that having a Carp scale under your plate, and keeping it later in your wallet, will ensure good fortune.

Czechs have some pretty unusual traditions connected with this fish.

Fried carp and potato salat is a typical Czech Christmas dinner and, in the week leading up to Christmas, there are massive tanks full of carp in front of supermarkets. Customers choose one of the fish, and it is killed in front of them and packaged to take home, or they can buy a live fish and take it home. Traditionally, families bought their carp a week before Christmas and let it live in the bath. It was to keep the fish fresh and to clean the carp and get rid of the slightly muddy taste it gets from the pond.

While many families including my own happily abandoned this tradition years ago  - and I try to avoid mere sight of the tanks - still many people like it and it can be a source of shock for foreigners witnessing the carp sale in the streets.

What’s your favourite holiday tradition?

It is not a particular tradition, it is the Christmas atmosphere I love. Prague is especially charming after Dec 24, when the shopping and all Christmas preparations are over (and the carp tanks disappear!). People slow down, we all try to be kinder, reflective and that makes it “the most magical time of the year”.

Looking back on 2021, was it a good year?

It was definitely challenging, but it brought many new opportunities and turned out to be a really good year work wise. There was a surge of innovations and high demand for new leadership among technology-driven companies and I am very happy there was a strong shift in priorities of our clients towards sustainability, purpose and social responsibility.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

Every little joy it brings - ideally without a need to keep a distance and wear a mask.

In CEE, leaders tend to overestimate how well their company is doing in terms of gender issues.

With so many diversity and inclusion activities underway it is easy to assume that progress is being made. Then why are there so few women in executive positions?

The new McKinsey report “Win-win: How empowering women can benefit Central and Eastern Europe” examines the potential benefits of greater gender equality for businesses and society, identifies barriers to progress, and suggests actions that could unlock as much as €146 billion in annual GDP by 2030—an 8 % increase over a business-as-usual scenario.

In the seven CEE countries analysed (Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine):

To find out why there are so few women in executive positions in CEE, the survey of approximately 3,000 employees in the region uncovered the following insights:

Ambition is not a challenge: Women are as ambitious as men, but they perceive more barriers to promotion. Men and women showed almost the same level of interest in getting promoted (57 % of women versus 56 % of men). However, 28 % of women said that their gender made it harder for them to secure a raise or a promotion.

Women blame themselves; men blame others: Women who thought they were unlikely to make it to the top said that it was because they lacked the necessary skills (43 %) or the right leadership style (38 %), or that promotions to top executive positions were not based on merit (33 %). A far smaller proportion of men said that they lacked the necessary skills for the job (8 % less than for women), and a much larger share said that it was because promotions were not based on merit (10 % more than for women). In other words, women are more likely to blame their own shortcomings for their failure to become executives, while men are more likely to blame the shortcomings of their company.

Unpaid work is a major barrier: Nearly 40% women provide daily unpaid care work (looking after children, the elderly, or people with disabilities). This is twice as many as men. Essentially, female employees are still working a “double shift”.

The COVID-19 crisis has created additional burdens on women: The increased burden has fallen disproportionately on women. 54% of women with children under the age of ten said the pandemic has made them more likely to consider scaling back on their paid work, compared to only 25 % of men.

Correcting this imbalance would tremendously benefit not only women in their careers and personal lives, it could have a potentially transformative effect on the economies of CEE.

Despite abundant evidence that gender equality in leadership is good for business, for an overwhelming majority of organizations advancing women into leadership roles is not a formal business priority.

One of the major and most complex challenges is to shift the underlying cultural factors. The McKinsey research highlights the need of the leaders of companies and public institutions to be visibly engaged in efforts to reduce the gender imbalance, rather than delegating this work to Diversity Officers.

But including men (holding 98% of CEO positions in CEE) in diversity efforts is not as simple as inviting them to a gender-equity event. Worldwide data from BCG shows that 96 % of companies with men actively involved in gender diversity initiatives report progress at all levels, compared to only 30 % of companies without men engaged. It seems intuitive that involving men would lead to greater results. Yet part of the challenge of getting men to join the efforts, according to BCG data, is that they tend to overestimate how well their company is doing in terms of gender issues.

To remove the barriers that hold women back at work, we have to acknowledge that the barriers exist. We need to realise that gender equality is not a “women  issue”, it is a “leadership issue”.

The last thing that women need is men “rescuing” them or assuming the role of the workplace knight in shining armor.

Because men are in so many leadership roles, they have an enormous opportunity to accelerate progress. Men's voices are critical because of, not in spite of, their gender. When men speak up against gender disparities, they not only become visible as allies, they also raise awareness and acceptance about gender inequity as a shared problem, not a special interest.


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