Women can lead as well as men, says PTK Echo's Chadimová.
photo: Courtesy Elvíra Chadimová
She has become a success in a business world dominated by men - and she's not the least bit surprised: "Women can work just as well as men and we are equally able to be successful leaders," she says.
But her road to good fortune has not been easy. When she started out, she says, she would often meet with "suspicious" looks from male business partners surprised that the head of the firm they were dealing with was a woman.
"When I felt that my male business partners assumed they were superior to me," she says, "I just tried to convince them that they were wrong by presenting professional arguments and knowledge combined with a diplomatic approach."
While Chadimová may have found success in the Slovak business world, sociologists say that she is the exception. According to Magdeléna Piscová, a sociologist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences: "Slovak men distrust women's leadership abilities because of a lingering idea that men are intellectually superior to women. This idea, among other existing stereotypes, has resulted in the fact that today we have more men leading the country, more men leading businesses, than we have women in the same roles."
Jaroslav Mach, human resources director at Slovenská Sporiteľňa bank, disagreed, saying that modern Slovak men no longer discriminate against women. Instead, he said, women's low representation in high-ranking business sector jobs was due to their apparent hesitancy to apply in the first place.
"We [men] would respect a female leader just as we would a male [as long as the different sexes had the same skills]," he said. "But when there are job openings for leading posts, usually only about one third of the applicants are women."
Mach added, however: "I think it's natural [that there are more men in business than women]. The reason why there are fewer women holding top business posts is the result of a fundamental difference between men and women. You may not agree with me, but women should primarily take care of the household. Men should safeguard finances for the family."
Margita Barošová, a researcher with the Social Affairs Ministry, said that in Slovakia tradition still dictates what jobs are held by which sex. The problem is that women have been herded into the lowest paid sectors.
In 1999, statistics prepared by the Slovak Statistics Office showed that over 81% of the health care sector work force were women, while women made up 79.6% in education, and 63.7% in public and social services. That same year, the lowest paid sector was agriculture, followed in order by education, health care and public and social services.
"Women should serve, and the men should 'rule' or make decisions," said sociologist Piscová, quoting what she said was a common belief among men and women alike.
Although Slovak law bans discrimination based on gender, men still make far more money than women do (see chart, this page). "Women make about 20% less than men do," said Edit Bauer, Deputy Social Affairs Minister. "It's a fact that women make less."
The one lucrative sector where women outnumber the men, said Barošová, is banking and finance, which in 1999 offered the highest average monthly wage in Slovakia at 15,020 Slovak crowns ($311). In 1999, men made up just 33.9% of the sector.
But those numbers are skewed, she continued, as men "usually become the heads of these companies" while women are left to clerical tasks and bank teller positions. The average male wage in the sector is 19,162 crowns, compared to 13,196 for women
To overcome workplace discrimination, women's rights activists say that they must unite if they ever hope to force change from men. "It's unrealistic to expect stereotypes in Slovakia to be eliminated by men," said Dagmar Šimunková, head of the NGO Professional Women.
"But the issue [of equality] is crucial to the functioning of our whole society," she continued. "Therefore, we expect that its importance will be understood and the process supported by men."