The Czech glass ceiling is extra thick

I deliberated writing this post for the risk of being seen as, ahem, “patrician”.  But I have been moved by some young women to do it anyway.

Recently I hired a woman who just graduated from her Master’s program in business & marketing. During the interview process, she distinguished herself as having great potential. And everything that she has done since arriving has reinforced my impressions.

I began to reflect on where her talent might take her in the Czech workplace in the years ahead. As I looked around at the women in my company, and other companies I have been exposed to in the Czech Republic, I saw the dearth of women as managers. And there are still fewer female executives. Most women are individual contributors and many of those are performing administrative assistant functions.

Americans decry the lack of women in high positions, but the situation is worse still in Czech.

This is a country that is growing in large part thanks to its “knowledge economy”, where the technology and business process outsourcing sectors are the engine. What a shame if a big part of the workforce is excluded from participating in that opportunity.

As an American, one must be careful not to judge other cultures that one doesn’t fully understand. Perhaps women drop out of the workforce once they have a family due to choice of priorities. Or is it because they have no incentive to remain in the workforce?

But for those women who do want a career, it’s going to be a long hard slog. What to do?

First, the challenge will be greatest for women who have been in the workplace for 15 or more years. They are now labeled by the role they currently play and the money they now earn. If they haven’t succeeded in defying the odds somehow and become high earners, managers and executives, then the system won’t change in time to remove the obstacles for them.

Second, for those in the workplace for 5-15 years, the non-managerial roles are probably within easier reach. There can be a career growth path that rewards expertise as an individual contributor and avoids the strongest bias, which is against placing women in leadership roles. Maybe the government should step in and provide mid-career assistance in training and education that enables individual contributors to ascend to a level of expert? Certainly, technical disciplines like high-tech and manufacturing can support such a career ladder.

Third, the youngest of the workforce stand the greatest chance of unconstrained growth. There are tremendously smart, ambitious women available as recent graduates. And the wages they command are modest to say the least. Can they be fast-tracked somehow? Such as pairing them up in apprenticeship-style roles doing the work of a more senior person or even a manager? Companies can afford to carry these costs if they see the value in finding early stars and grooming them.

Last, time above all will enable change. The issue of women in the workplace is a global one, and no country stands out as having solved it. However, the Czech economy is increasingly global; with it comes exposure to other business cultures where women play a more prominent role.

I suppose the greater question is whether Czech society wants this change for itself.  I certainly hope so.  I’ve seen the bright young faces and the hope they have for their careers. They deserve the chance.

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