How can equality change a business? Dominika Kulczyk, Ela Bonda, Bartosz Ciołkowski and Dr. Konrad Maj on the Wirtualna Polska Debate

The same rights and wages, the possibility of development regardless of gender, care for the health and needs of employees – these were just a few of the issues raised during the Wirtualna Polska Debate. What actions should companies take to win the competition for employees? The guests of the WP discussed the changing labor market.

Until recently, business was a male-dominated space. Today, more and more women are at the forefront of companies. However, parity in enterprises does not automatically mean equal wages and the same rights. We talked about the reality of women on the labor market with our guests: Dominika Kulczyk, President of the Kulczyk Foundation and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Polenergia S.A., Ela Bonda – Diversity and Inclusion Lead at NatWest Group, Bartosz Ciołkowski, General Director for Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Mastercard Europe and Konrad Maj, PhD – Social Psychologist and Head of the HumanTech Center at the SWPS University. How did experts assess the situation of women (not only) in business?

Inequality is not just a problem for women

It would seem, that nowadays, gender equality should be a standard, but the labor market (and not only in Poland) still leaves much to be desired in this matter. In the European Union, women earn 15% per hour less than men. Stereotypes related to motherhood are also still valid. – In the company environment, it is still women who are assigned parental responsibilities – despite the directive entitling men to take care leave. This shows how much a flexible approach to women’s needs is needed so that they can develop at the same pace as their colleagues from the company – said Ela Bonda from NatWest.

Business inequality is not just a problem for women, however. – Unequal rights create frustration and disturb relationships in the team. Such a situation causes divisions in the group and has a negative impact on self-esteem – employees who feel inferior automatically withdraw and do not show initiative in the company – argued psychologist Konrad Maj.

The President of the Kulczyk Foundation, in turn, drew attention to the openness and honesty in relations in the team. Also, in the context of menstrual health. – Do we expect men to take toilet paper with them to work? As far as I know, this is not the case. Yet women are forced to go to the toilet with their own hygiene measures, putting themselves under stress. To avoid this, let’s standardize the topic of menstruation. This is nature, not a reason to be ashamed and to hide, said Dominika Kulczyk, arguing, at the same time, that the lack of pads or tampons may affect self-esteem, self-confidence and, consequently, hinder women’s professional development. Therefore, employers should make them available to employees, just as they provide the team with water, coffee, drinks, or fruit.

Ela Bonda assured that the toilets for women in NatWest were equipped with boxes with the necessary hygiene products. The company gives the floor to its employees and often asks about their needs – including those regarding toilets. The issue raised in the forum is not only menstruation, but also menopause – the next stage in women’s lives, which concerns many women working in business.

It’s (not) a men’s world. How do companies combat gender inequality?

Dominika Kulczyk emphasized that equality in companies is possible and today should be the norm in every business environment. Adding that women are the advocates of these changes and that they should actively communicate their needs.

– At Mastercard, we see the need for change and we want to actively support women in their professional activity. One of our most important initiatives is equal pay for equal work, that is, correcting wage inequalities systematically. The company also does not forget about men – currently they are entitled to 16 weeks of paternity leave. This convenience makes it possible to reverse the roles – mothers can develop their careers, while fathers stay at home and take care of their offspring – argued Bartosz Ciołkowski.

– At the recruitment stage, we encourage women to apply for positions in our company. We talk between women about changes in our lives and how they affect the need for changes at work. We practise various initiatives for women, such as a support program after returning from maternity leave, support in family planning and IVF funding, talent programs. However, first of all, we try to pay attention to the social element that initiates a dialogue on women’s needs – said Ela Bonda.

Konrad Maj, a Psychologist, assessed that today such changes are of key importance for women when making employment decisions. An additional obstacle are companies dominated by men and not adapted to the needs and sensitivity of women. Research shows that women prefer to work in an atmosphere similar to home conditions, pay attention to relations in the company and take care of good emotions in their surroundings.

How can equality change the face of companies?

– In my opinion, equality is a natural state – said Dominika Kulczyk. – In the past, I thought that I had to conquer this world, fight for myself, be more masculine. Today I wear pants with the feeling that I am one hundred percent woman – assured the President of Kulczyk Foundation.

“Equality should be normal,” added Ela Bonda, representing the NatWest Group. – My dream is that we don’t have to talk about it anymore.

– It is much better to work in a company that cares about the equality of all employees and is more competitive on the labor market – admitted Bartosz Ciołkowski from Mastercard.

– Equality is an opportunity for better cooperation between the sexes – added Konrad Maj, a Psychologist from the SWPS University.

Differences in practice. What inequalities do women face in the workplace?

Unequal wages and fewer career opportunities compared to men are the most common problems in many companies that women pay attention to. It turns out, however, that there are many more obstacles to a good and satisfying job. Examples? Workwear in workplaces is not suitable for use by women – especially pregnant ones. The air-conditioning system and the weight of the entrance door are also adapted to the body shape of men.

However, the inequality in access to toilets may also be surprising. A woman’s visit to the toilet lasts on average 2.3 times longer than a man’s visit. This is because women have more clothes to take off, and when they menstruate, they also need to change their hygiene measures. Access to clean and female-friendly toilets affects not only their psychological comfort, but also their health and safety.

However, problems that seemingly only affect women have a huge impact on the functioning of companies. About half of the female population is working-age women, which means that a quarter of the world’s population is menstruating. Unpleasant symptoms related to menstruation experience as many as 84 %women. According to the Kulczyk Foundation research, 17 % of women in Poland did not go to work or school for this reason, and every tenth Polish woman had to leave her job due to the lack of a sanitary pad. These seemingly mundane situations can constitute a serious obstacle in the professional development of women and increase inequalities in the business environment.

Watch the debate on the Kulczyk Foundation YouTube Channel.

Author: Agnieszka Małgorzata Adamska

The text was published on on April 26, 2022.