Why do Czech women settle for less?

Women in the Czech Republic still make on average 22 percent less than men. The wage gap is highest in the private sector, although to a lesser extent it is also present in the public sphere. The NGO Business & Professional Women has for years been raising awareness of the problem and helping to combat it.

Photo: somkku9 / FreeDigitalPhotos.netPhoto: somkku9 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net On March 18 – which marks Equal Pay Day –they held a conference of the same name at which they speed-mentored women in different areas of business on how to negotiate a higher salary. I asked Lenka Mrázová of BPW, one of the mentors at the conference, to tell me more about the problem.

“Currently there is a 22 percent difference between the average salary of men and women.”

Equal pay day was March 18th which goes to show how much longer women have to work to earn the same as men did last year…

“Exactly. The date for the conference Equal Pay Day was selected intentionally in order to draw attention to the fact that from the beginning of the year until March 18th we women work for the state, so to speak.”

Where do you see the roots of the problem? Why do women make 22 percent less on average?

“I would say we are not so self-confident and we do not negotiate about our salary. We take the position and we are happy with the offer made. We do not negotiate to the extent that men are used to, we do not ask for more favourable treatment and additional benefits etc. That is one reason and the other is (a lack of ) self-confidence. The maternity leave in the Czech Republic is pretty long, which is great from the family perspective. However, if a woman returns from maternity leave after a three or even six to seven year break she usually does not have what I call productive habits and more importantly she does not believe that she can soon be as productive as she was before going on maternity leave. And therefore she is very nice to the potential or current employer and does not ask for more. And if you are taking a job with a twenty thousand crown salary you are happy with an increase of two to three thousand crowns sometime in the future. You do not negotiate right from the beginning and say: Ok, I believe I can receive 30 thousand crowns a month in this position, I can increase my competences and I am as self-confident as I was before going on maternity leave. Give me an increase of five thousand now. This is something women are not used to doing.”

“We are not so self-confident and we do not negotiate to the extent that men are used to.”

How do employers justify the discrepancy?

“Usually the explanation is –this is a business and this is the trade-off. Imagine that you are at a job interview. You have the job description and ask for the salary given. If I was an entrepreneur and someone asked me for a salary in the lower-end of the range in my mind I would think, this is not a very self-confident person, maybe there is a lack of knowledge, lack of competences, but let us give this person a chance and give them the salary they are asking for. And if they prove to be a reliable and self-confident person, qualified for the job I may increase it. Usually entrepreneurs increase salaries when they are asked for it. They wait to be asked.”

Do you feel that there is an ingrained belief that the man is the bread-winner and would leave if he were not given a higher salary, while the woman would not? Or that she would be absent more to care of sick children and so on..?

“I would say that is still in the minds of some of them but above all, I think they are protecting the money. They would be willing to offer more but if no one requests it…..”

What is the situation like if you compare the public and private sector?

“I am talking more about the private sector, because in the public sector equal salaries should be automatic. There are salary ranges which should ensure that. There may be a smaller discrepancy say three to five thousand crowns and again it is likely that women are offered less and when they accept it, if they do not dare to ask for more, they get less. I do not want to say this is illegal, but it is definitely unjustifiable. You should have equal pay in the private sector as well, but in the private sector it is more about negotiation and we women usually do not like to negotiate.”

Lenka Mrázová, photo: archive of Lenka MrázováLenka Mrázová, photo: archive of Lenka Mrázová When you look at an international comparison of the gap in wages you will see that the Czech Republic is one of the worst performers - third up from the bottom – followed only by Austria and Estonia. Why is this something we share with Austria and why are we doing so badly?

“Definitely one reason is that women here generally go on really long maternity leave. If you are working in Germany and take a year-long maternity leave then your employer waits for you and fills the vacancy with a temporarily replacement. And you pick up from where you left off, but here if you spend three years at home the company needs to find a functional replacement, often there are changes in the company and it can be that when they come back from maternity leave women come back to the same company, but not to the same position.”

You say this is because they take an excessively long maternity leave –but will that change? Maybe they do not want to rush back to work after spending a year at home with their child…

“Much depends on family support and the approach of the father. Because the woman may be willing to return to work sooner, but if there is not sufficient logistics involved and sufficient support from her partner that is hard to do. Sometimes she comes up against the notion that it is her responsibility to care for the children and it is up to her to find a kindergarten or private nanny and if everything is settled she may return to her job sooner.”

Lower wages for women are projected into lower pensions and thereby older women are inclined to be more threatened by poverty – is that the case?

“That is fully correct.”

“I do not want to say this is illegal, but it is definitely unjustifiable.”

What is the government doing to address the problem – if anything?

“To be honest, I believe the government is trying to address the problem. There is a long-term action plan until 2020, but there has been little PR surrounding it. The government has proposed good measures, but they have not yet been implemented.”

And what is the organization Business and Professional Women doing in this respect?

“I believe that the conference Equal Pay Day is an opportunity for all women to gain more self-confidence and learn not only how to negotiate a higher salary, but to be aware of the fact that there is a chance to negotiate. I remember that two speakers at the conference asked –independently – how many of the women in the room had negotiated with regard to their salary and I believe that it was about ten percent of the women present. Around a thousand women attended speed-mentoring-day at the conference and approximately 300 took part in a debate where participants shared their stories, their successes and failures, talked about falling down but getting back up again, learning from their mistakes and overcoming their problems. And on Saturday 57 female mentors –leading personalities from private businesses, televisions and NGOs each spent an hour with an audience of around 15 women with whom they discussed a given work issue. And it was really a discussion, not a monologue by the mentors, often a tough, intense debate as the participants exchanged positive and negative experiences at the workplace. And usually the outcome was that women came to the realization – if she could do it, then I can do it too.”

Are Czech women listening to this message –not just at the conference but nation-wide? Are they ready to take your advice?

“I do not know if all of them are ready – that I cannot guarantee – but some of them are and they are mostly younger women. I attended Equal Pay Day for the fourth time and I really feel that women are getting stronger and stronger.”

Photo: Tomáš AdamecPhoto: Tomáš Adamec If you were to give me an estimate – how long will it take to correct this discrepancy in wages?

“I would say that an optimistic estimate is about ten years. I would be happy if it were earlier, but let us see how far we get by 2020 and then we will know more. Generation Y is even more self-confident and they will be taking it even more seriously and will fight for themselves because they are by nature more self-confident than women over forty.”