Bill proposes minimum of one-third women in leadership positions in large companies

Hana Stelzerová

A new bill recently drafted by the Czech government aims to see a minimum of one-third women in upper management positions in large companies. The draft aims to bring Czechia more in line with other EU countries, where the representation of women on company boards is already closer to 33 percent, while Czechia languishes at 21 percent. I spoke to Hana Stelzerová, director of the Czech Women's Lobby, to find out how effective this proposal might be – and whether it goes far enough.

Why does Czechia have a much lower representation of women in upper management positions than the EU average (21 percent compared to 32.2 percent)?

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“This is one of the widest gaps between other European countries and the Czech Republic – the representation of women in decision-making positions. I think it is because we still do not see this as a problem and many companies are not providing the necessary support for women to become leaders and board members. I see it as a problem requiring a complex approach if we want women to be part of the decision making process.”

Do you think the very long maternity leave in Czechia has any impact on this?

“Maternity leave, or any kind of care, creates a big obstacle for women to further their careers, to become leaders in entrepreneurship and in companies. So it is an obstacle, but I don’t think that’s the only thing, because men can also take leave now.

“So if it helps families to overcome this time when they have little kids, that’s good, but both parents should be part of the care, and then companies wouldn’t put the obstacles only on women. If it would be equal in care, then it would also be equal in other spheres of life.”

I was surprised to read that the law will only affect five large companies and banks. Why so few?

Illustrative photo: European Commission

“From the information I have, it’s because they have chosen to implement this directive only in the minimum necessary way that needs to be done [to comply with EU law]. So that means it only applies to companies that have over 250 employees and a revenue of over 50 million euros. And there are only five companies of this size in Czechia.”

České noviny wrote that the regulation is being adopted in its most minimal form in order to comply with EU law. Would you agree with that statement and if so, why do you think that is the case?

“It looks like it is the case – that’s why it’s only five large international companies that need to have this in place. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to other companies.

“I think it’s because of the conservative approach to quotas in the Czech Republic. Quotas are something that many politicians don’t like. The wider public also doesn’t understand why quota measures should be in place and how they could help.

“Sometimes there is misinformation about how women should be capable enough to get onto boards themselves, but it’s a systemic problem rather than a failure of women.

“So this misunderstanding about quotas is one reason. And also this has been the way for a long time and it looks like it won’t change any time soon.”

In general, do you think mandatory quotas like this work?

“I think as a temporary measure, yes. We’ve been a democratic state for over 30 years and we are doing very badly in terms of women being part of the decision-making process. There are many barriers in their lives and careers that do not allow them to become board members or top managers in companies. And probably it won’t happen if we don’t have these quota measures in place, at least for some time.

Business woman | Photo: madartzgraphics,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“The directive also says that if it turns in the other direction and there are more women than men on the board, then the measures would also go in the other direction. So it really aims for diversity in decision-making, which is important, and the easiest and fastest way is to put in place this kind of quota.”

Do you think the proposal goes far enough?

“It’s a good start. Maybe then naturally it can become a more equal representation of women and men on the board, but at least we start with 30 percent.

“It’s usually said that quotas start working when it’s over 40 percent – especially when there are more people on the board. Not just a few people like 10, but more like 50, then it works better if there is a quorum of women and men because then it changes the perspectives and the decision-making.

“So 40 or 50 would be much better, but we need to start somewhere. And hopefully companies will realise that it actually brings them many benefits if they have this kind of parity in their board of directors.”