Searching for balance

A revolution of sorts in the Czech workforce has made women entrepreneurs, CEOs, and top managers more common. But what does success mean for them in terms of personal sacrifice?

MORE THAN TWO MILLION WOMEN are now active in the national economy, and from this number, about 76,000 are in managerial positions (as well as in government). According to Lenka Simerská from Gender Studies, women are definitely becoming more accepted in the management field. “A lot of economic activities are running because of foreign investment,” Simerská says. “[These foreign companies] are bringing new roles for women.”
Is being the family breadwinner one of these new roles? Simerská says she is not sure. It is true that there are no statistics looking at this trend, and even the Czech Statistical Office still lists “wife’s income” as secondary in its household earnings statistics. Alena Křížková from the Czech Institute of Sociology says that sometimes women are even reluctant to outdo their husbands. “There already are women earning more than their partners but very often don’t show it explicitly,” she explains, “and often their partner also doesn’t know it.”
One thing is for sure, the idea of a woman as the family’s sole provider still has not taken root in the Czech Republic. Simerská compares the situation here to her time spent in Sweden, where she thinks this is more common. “At 11 in the morning, I would see men out walking with children in the park or the supermarket,” she remembers. “This is still not seen in the Czech Republic.”

A closer look
We set out to find situations where the woman was the majority, or even sole, wage-earner in the family – looking directly at successful women in high-profile careers. One (un)surprising fact was the number of divorces among the successful female managers approached for this story. This trend may be explained by the still prevalent idea of traditional gender roles in Czech society. “The traditional model of gender roles – where a man’s main concern is work and a woman’s is family – is still strong in Czech society,” explains Křížková. When these roles are reversed, it can be difficult for men. According to Simerská, society looks on as if, “These men are not proving themselves as men.” And competition can be devastating for a relationship, as was the case for Yvonna Kreuzmannová, the director of Tanec Praha.
Her second husband, whom she was married to for five years before divorcing in 2002, was trying to get his private business of the ground while they were married; she, too, was working to move Tanec Praha to the respected position it has now. But when the success of her annual event started to pass her husband’s business, it made the marriage difficult. She said this “changed the relationship.” As director of a popular cultural event, there were many public events to attend. “I felt he started to become frustrated because he was following me,” she says. And in the relationship, she remembers, “the tension was too much. He never accepted the fact that I was becoming more successful.” Kreuzmannová also believes that “it’s a problem of tradition in society.” Yet she remains optimistic, pointing out that younger generations have a bigger chance to travel (and study abroad) and see differences in other societies. “It’s a question of time,” she says. “I think [this perception] will change.”
Mutual respect
In many cases, this is already happening. In a lot of marriages where the women is in a high-profile position, the common ingredient for success is a man who is confident and satisfied with his own career choice, even if he isn’t in the spotlight like his wife. Dana Dvořáková started her career as a journalist before switching sides to become spokeswoman for Český Telecom, and then VÚB Bank in Slovakia (where she played an important role in giving the bank an image makeover). She now finds herself as communications director at Czech Airlines (ČSA), as well as happily married for five years. Her husband, Petr Šimůnek, who is a deputy editor at Mladá fronta Dnes and hosts a political talk show on Frekvence 1 radio, says he feels no need to compete with his wife. “I don’t have any problem that my wife is successful,” he says. “I’m not jealous of her position.” Their relationship is still viewed by them as very equal, even though he admits she sometimes makes a little more money than him. Šimůnek, however, recognizes the problems can occur in relationships where a woman plays a leading role. “I know many women who are more successful than their husbands,” he says, adding, “I know some husbands who have trouble with this, but they have to cope with it.”
Another thing men have to cope with in relationships with successful women is the time demand their partner’s career can cause. Šimůnek says this was a problem in his relationship with Dvořáková. “We had some problems when my wife was in Slovakia,” he says, adding that was a big reason for her return home. Kreuzmannová also thinks this played a role in both her marriages. Her first marriage with an actor ended after five years. “Artists need more attention and I was very busy,” she says. In both marriages, she recalls, “I wasn’t home enough and was too busy.”

Yvonna Kreuzmannová

Men at home
But for the women, time demand can also be a problem when household chores are involved. Kreuzmannová says that even when her second husband’s business wasn’t going so well – giving him more free time – he still wouldn’t help out with things like cleaning and shopping. Her solution was to get a maid, but Kreuzmannová’s husband resisted this. “There was still a feeling I had to do it,” she says.
Indeed, in many marriages involving successful (and busy) women, household assistance, whether it’s the husband or a maid, is a must. Karel Řezníček, whose wife, Zuzana Řezníčková, was named vice-president of marketing and sales at ČSA in January, says this is very important. Řezníček, who himself is very busy running PPP, a firm which consults on and plans construction projects, says his family hires someone to take care of many household chores. “I try to create an environment which makes it possible for her to concentrate on work,” he says, “and not have to worry about daily chores.” (see sidebar, p. 19)
But what about children? Šimůnek says he and Dvořáková plan to have children, although they haven’t discussed exact details over who will put their career on hold during the first year. He thinks that it would naturally be her the first few months, but later, “it could be me,” he adds. Under Czech law, men are allowed to take paternity leave once the child is six months old. However, according to research by Křížková, “a negligible number of families take advantage of this option,” she writes in one report. For single mothers, which isn’t a rarity among female managers, it can be more difficult, as state maternity leave provides only 69% of their salary. For many, they are back at work after a short period of time.
” I decided to be a single mother,” states Eva Kárníková, (41), the managing director of Diner’s Club in the Czech Republic. She says she was back at work three months after her 9-month-old daughter was born. To help her, her mother moved to Prague to live with Kárníková and help with the baby. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without her,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to focus.” Still, she doesn’t see this as a long-term solution as the mother is getting older, so she plans to hire a nanny until the baby is old enough to enter kindergarten.
The question of what to do with a child until it is old enough to enter school poses a dilemma for many female managers, and nannies are not uncommon. According to Křížková’s research, women “often do not want to interrupt their career.” In many organizations, competition among positions is one factor, but in situations when it’s a woman running the business, taking a long time off isn’t an option.
So the solution is that most women choose not to choose, and research by the Institute of Sociology has regularly found that the great majority of Czech women think they are able to balance a career and family. Which means that men – especially men in relationships with female managers and entrepreneurs – will have to cope with their partners’ increasing success, just as Šimůnek advises.

What you don’t see

 Karel Řezníček & Zuzana Řezníčková
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

ZUZANA ŘEZNÍČKOVÁ might be a tough act to follow for many men. But that perception isn’t a problem for her husband, Karel Řezníček (44). “I personally don’t feel like I’m playing a secondary role in our relationship,” he says. “Rather I feel that we compliment each other very well.”
Working out of the spotlight, Řezníček runs PPP, a company which advises on and plans construction projects for big firms like Kaufland and Master Foods. Meanwhile, his wife now sits on the board of directors at Czech Airlines (ČSA), where she was named vice-president of marketing and sales in January, and has made a career marketing high-profile companies.
Řezníček recognizes that problems can arise in relationships that involve successful women. “I assume that many more problems are created in relationships with this ‘flipped’ role,” he says. However, he thinks some simple ingredients help. “I am convinced the foundation [of a successful relationship] is mutual respect,” he opines. An interest in each other’s work also helps. “Our work absorbs both of us,” Řezníček says, “and it’s often the topic of our discussions.” He feels that the most important aspect in handling a relationship with a successful, high-profile careerwoman is knowing you’ll be there after the cameras are gone. “The interest of the media and public is only an elusive cloud,” he says.
Their situation, Řezníček believes, works in a positive way. “It strengthens us,” he says, “and perhaps forces us to do more and more activities, even though people around us probably think that it would be enough for us.” While both partners could be a breadwinner in any family, Řezníček maintains that society doesn’t specifically look down on family situations where women are the breadwinners. “I think that our traditional Czech society mainly doesn’t forgive success no matter whose it is,” he says. “Society is not interested in who brought more money to the family, but much more in whether the family has money.”

Jason Hovet

A perfect team

Judita Křížová & Aleksander Manić
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

As co-founders of Cabiria Films, Judita Křížová and Aleksander (Sasha) Manić share not only their work, but also their married life. Working as a producer/director team of the company, both contribute on the artistic aspects; however, according to Manić, it is Křížová who handles the business side of things. “I like to let Judita conduct all the meetings, while I prefer to focus more on the practical work. She is very good at business meetings,” emphasizes Manić, and adds with a teasing smile, “I am mostly doing whatever she tells me to do.”
Because the two studied together at the Prague Film Academy (where they first met) and are inextricably involved in one another’s work, Manić is able to “help [Křížová] make the most out of her projects, and she helps me in the same way. If she does not agree with something I do, she tells me and we discuss it.” Sharing every aspect of their careers “works perfectly,” according to Křížová, who is executive producer. Manić concurs. “It’s good to know she understands what I am doing,” he says. “For example, when I spend days and nights editing films, she is not going to scorn me [because] we did not get to spend some ‘quality time’ together. There is no psychological problem whatsoever with dealing with each other’s professional successes.”
The couple also finds that their dedication to work – each other’s and their own – extends far beyond the office and the studio. “I am never able to distinguish between what is work and what is not,” Manić says. “The work I do is the work I have always wanted to do, so I do not need to make a difference between relaxing and working.” Along the same lines, Křížová confesses, “I am living with it,” and “thinking about [work] all the time.”
At the moment, Manić mostly edits Křížová’s films. Manić was recently in London filming Křížová’s current documentary about horse-riding events, for which she is both producer and director. He recounts that “my British hosts could not help mentioning that I have a beautiful wife who seems to be bossing me around.” These sorts of assumptions, however, phase Manić little. “It was okay this time, because she is the director of the film and has the right to tell me what to do,” he says.

Fiona Gaze

Setting life priorities

Dita Stejskalová
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

Dita Stejskalová, managing director of Ogilvy Public Relations, represents an increasing trend in the Czech business community – she’s single. For her, and many women in similar positions, work comes first. “Hard work never killed a man,” she says, quoting David Ogilvy, her company’s founder. Stejskalová calls working in her top management capacity “a way of life.”
Lenka Simerská of Gender Studies notes that “[Business] women under the age of 40 put everything into their work; they don’t have time to even think about meeting people.” She attributes this to the abundance of opportunities and ever-expanding career choices that are now available to a post-revolution generation of Czech women. With demanding schedules and new ventures cropping up, it is not surprising that an increasing amount of women are finding that meeting potential romantic partners is rarely a possibility, and perhaps not even a priority. Simerská observed that single women in managerial positions tend to ignore the fact that they could be “settling down” in long-term relationships or having a family. The question she finds most interesting is, “whether this [mindset] is voluntary, or imposed by either the nature of their work or business culture in general.”
In addition to staying single and committing to their careers, a large number of women in top management are also happily balancing the blessing of children in their lives. Yvonna Kreuzmannová has been married – and divorced – twice, and for now is relishing being single. “It’s giving me a lot of freedom,” she says. As a mother-of-two and the director of Tanec Praha, Kreuzmannová doesn’t see dating as a priority, but adds, “I can’t plan these things.” Factoring children into one’s life is also a commitment for unmarried Eva Kárníková, CEO of Diner’s Club, whose baby is ten months old. Kárníková is decorating a new apartment, which, in combination with her baby and full schedule at Diner’s Club, doesn’t leave much time for socializing. “I am busy enough at the moment,” she says.
Still, a hectic schedule and a passion for work don’t necessarily rule out romance, dating, or a family life. For Stejskalová, a relationship “is not a ‘must have’. It is a ‘lovely to have’.” She says that she does hope to have a family someday, however, she adds emphatically that “life is about priorities. I would prefer to hunt new business opportunities than to hunt men.”

Fiona Gaze

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Jana Hybášková & Ivan Gabal
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

Five years apart might sour some marriages, but when your wife is a ranking member of the diplomatic corps, things are a little different. Such is the case with Ivan Gabal, husband of Jana Hybášková (38). “I’ve always been interested in partners who were ambitious, self-confident and able,” Gabal says. Those are adjectives fit for an ambassador, which Hybášková had been since 1997 before being called home from Kuwait last December after a very public spat over the Czech army’s decision to withdraw its field hospital from southern Iraq.
The couple met in 1991 while working together at the Minister of Foreign Affairs under current NATO ambassador, Karel Kovanda, who Gabal claims introduced them. “My wife from the beginning had a respect for and influence on her surroundings. It was impossible not to notice,” Gabal says. And he was right. Shortly after their meeting, Hybášková, who speaks Arabic and is an expert in Arabic studies, became the youngest director of the Middle East and North Africa department at the ministry, where she worked until 1997. Then she took ambassadorships in Slovenia, Brussels (as EU ambassador), and finally Kuwait in 2002. But their time apart doesn’t bother Gabal. “I give her maximum room for work and professional projects,” he says. Her decision to go to Kuwait, according to Gabal, was a family affair, which included their two daughters (ages 11 and 8), both who stayed with their mother while she was in Kuwait. When she was offered the post, Gabal says, “my wife had doubts and didn’t really want to go. We both assumed it would probably be a war mission.” But, in the end, at Gabal’s urging, she went. “She couldn’t refuse it,” he says.
Her next step, now that she is home from Kuwait, has also been a family decision – although like the last decision, it wasn’t through consensus. “I’m afraid she will go crazy in Czech politics,” Gabal says about his wife’s plans to run for the European Parliament. But for now, Gabal, who left ministry work and now runs his own analytical consulting firm which specializes in human resources and public development projects, is trying to enjoy the time together with his family. “When we’re able to be together, which isn’t often, we and the children do everything together. Time flies quickly, so it’s necessary to enjoy ourselves.”

Jason Hovet

A support system

Antonín Baudyš & Zuzana Baudyšová
Photo: Vojtěch Vlk

ANTONÍN BAUDYŠ got into politics after the revolution and soon became the first civilian Czech Minister of Defence in 1993 before resigning amid a small controversy a year later. Ten years hence, his wife, Zuzana Baudyšová (56), is poised to also join the parliamentary game.
” The reason is simply to help children,” she says, which is what she has been trying to do with her foundation, Naše dítě (Our Child), for the past 11 years. Now with his wife stepping further into the spotlight and into a role he onced played, Baudyš says he doesn’t feel any role reversal in the family. “I prefer to have a partner. It doesn’t matter what position she is in,” he says. He also doesn’t feel any power struggle in the relationship. “I’m very satisfied that she’s in this high position,” he says. “I’m not jealous.” When asked if Czech society shares his liberal views, Baudyš laughs and says, “It doesn’t matter to me what Czech society thinks.”
Baudyš, who became an entrepreneur and astrologer after leaving politics, is now able to work from home, which he says creates a good balance to his wife’s busy life. “This situation is much better for my wife,” he says. “Now that I’m home, I can take care of some of the family stuff.” That includes cooking a lot of the time, as well as taking care of the family pets. But that doesn’t mean Baudyšová lives a charmed life. “A lot of the household duties are still mine,” she says. “I must play my role as a professional, but also as a housewife.” Even Baudyš acknowledges his support is limited. “I am helping her more on the intellectual level than in a practical sense,” he says. “I can look at problems from the outside.” All of this will of course help Baudyšová in her efforts to run for Czech parliament next autumn.

Jason Hovet






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