Positive changes in Lithuania

Interview with Asta Grabinskė, General Manager, Aviva Lietuva, and a board member of the British Chamber of Commerce in Lithuania

 

When did things really start to change for women in Lithuania/the Baltics? What caused the change? 

Asta Grabinske, General Manager, Aviva LietuvaAlthough, on the surface the gender equality situation seems rather positive  when you dive in deeper you see that things are not so straightforward.

During the Soviet era everybody was artificially equal. Both men and women had to work and provide for the family, but it usually was the woman who had to make a ‘double career’: being a caring mother and achieving at work at the same time. Nonetheless, with the restoration of independence, accession to the EU, and the gradual expansion of Western business into the Baltics, gender equality became part of our discourse.

Altogether, with the changing culture, and society becoming more progressive, more opportunities arose for women to become independent. Today in a business environment this is to a large extent thanks to rapidly growing international companies, EU laws and cultural norms where a person is valued only by his or her skills, abilities and education, but not by gender.

Since 2009, we have had a woman president, and she has truly helped other women to achieve more in their careers. I personally used to work in her team and she helped me a lot to gain self-confidence and to start progressing in my career.

Today in politics, there are still fewer women than men, for example, only one out of five Parliament members is a woman, and this trend goes back to the last four terms of office. The gender difference at the ministers’ level is even more noticeable – during all terms, men outnumber women by almost 12 times. Therefore, the political level is still waiting for the necessary changes. 

 

Are the benefits of gender diversity being studied or recognised in Lithuania/the Baltics?

As an EU country, we follow legal requirements of gender equality. Nevertheless, from my perspective, we all – the government, business, media and society – can do more in this area. Especially taking into account that in some areas, like the pay gap, the situation is getting worse. In 2016 the male and female pay gap in Lithuania reached 13.4%, and is increasing year by year. Meanwhile, in the EU this gap is decreasing but is visibly larger – 16.3%.

Moreover, we cannot neglect the economic benefits of gender equality. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), visible improvement in this area would generate up to 10.5 million additional jobs in the EU and the GDP per capita would be positively affected up to nearly 10% by 2050.

 

Are there any initiatives to support women in business or gender diversity that your company is involved with?

In Lithuania, we have a number of supportive initiatives, both on national and EU levels: from special programs for encouraging women entrepreneurship to different institutions empowering women to participate in business and the labour market.

At Aviva, we empower our sales force, 80% of whom are women, to balance work and family, to become entrepreneurs, to get trained in finance, to work part time and have an opportunity to make a substantial personal income. This is especially favourable for young mothers, and for women in the remote areas of the country.

Moreover, we encourage parents to take a paid parental leave. At the moment, 8% of our women employees are on parental leave, and about 95% of employees come back to work after the leave. Our employees can take a home office, if it is necessary to stay at home and take care of their family.

 

Are you aware of any interesting studies?

Few international reports include the overview of the gender equality situation in our region and lack of determination in women to achieve more is visible there. According to Amway Global Entrepreneurship Report 2016, 47% of Lithuanian women can imagine themselves as entrepreneurs, 10% less compared to men. 78% women would like to have their own businesses but only 35% think they have necessary skills and resources to become an entrepreneur.

EIGE once every two years creates a Gender Equality Index that measures the complex concept of gender equality and, based on the EU policy framework, assists in monitoring progress of gender equality across the EU over time. The EU average is 66.2 points, while Lithuania has scored 56.8 points. The score has increased since 2010, meaning that gender equality in Lithuania is perceived as being stronger each year.

 

What do you think of the goal of gender parity (equal numbers of men and women) across business and the workplace? Is it achievable? And if not why not? Are there cultural issues?

Gender parity formal quotas require thorough discussions. However, it should not be ruled out immediately. It is easy to say, that everybody should be paid and promoted based on merit, on competence, on abilities, but in reality, the patriarchal traditions are still there.

I believe that society is much more demanding of women in high positions. People tend to exaggerate the mistakes made by women. Studies show that women are less self-confident and more modest at work. Therefore, to be represented in the boardroom, women need more encouragement and support.

I am glad that Aviva was the first FTSE100 company to raise the ambition of reaching a minimum of 30% of women in Executive Committees of FTSE100 companies. We have already met this target for our Group Executive team.

 

Interview provided by the British Chamber of Commerce in Lithuania bccl.lt

 

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