I am satisfied that I have been able, as the first employee at NALED, to monitor and direct the development of the organisation from its very inception, and to have done so in such a way that its management includes many exceptional women who make a difference with their work and intelligence, and who set an example for others to follow
One recent survey showed that women account for only three in every ten business owners in Serbia. That’s why talking to women who have forged successful careers, particularly in areas requiring a lot of personal entrepreneurship, is a good way for us to find out how women succeed and whether their successes are replicable. NALED Executive Director Violeta Jovanović is the ideal interlocutor to discuss this topic.
As a woman who statistically belongs to the aforementioned three per cent, how difficult was it for you receive and retain this position?
I am satisfied that I have been able, as the first employee at NALED, to monitor and direct the development of the organisation from its very inception, and to have done so in such a way that its management includes many exceptional women who make a difference with their work and intelligence, and who set an example for others to follow. I’m also today a member of the community of directors of business associations, and it should be acknowledged that these organisations in Serbia are headed by women, almost without exception. I would contend that this is the case because we possess the specific skills required to lead dialogue, reconcile contrasting perspectives and articulate members’ proposals in the public policies that we advocate for with the state. The goal of us gathering together in a community is to provide each other with mutual support, the exchange of knowledge and the affirmation of female leadership.
It was 15 years ago that Norway became the first country in the world to legislate management boards of companies having to be at least 40 per cent female. Such a rule exists in our country when it comes to women representing 40 per cent of candidates on electoral lists. What prevents us from taking a Norwegian approach?
Quotas are one of the important mechanisms for strengthening gender equality and raising awareness of women’s potential and their contribution to social progress. However, it is important to note that there are also pro and con arguments over such a solution, and that the way it is implemented should be carefully conceived. We often witness the failure to achieve the desired effect in the case that a principle is imposed, which sees it applied only formally, and that goes for both politics and business.
According to the findings of the latest report, “Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective”, which was conducted by Deloitte Global in collaboration with the 30% Club, women occupy 19.7% of boardroom seats worldwide, which is 2.8% higher than the previous most recent finding, from 2019. If such a situation continues in the future, we can expect equal gender representation on management boards to be reached by 2045. In Serbia’s case, according to the findings of research on factors that contribute to the glass ceiling effect for women in business, only 4% of women hold the function of director or serve as members of management and supervisory boards.
New information and communications technologies, the internet, and the comprehensive digitisation that is underway, have not only transformed existing business models, but rather also created opportunities for women to express their development potential
We are encouraged that we are seeing ever more women holding important positions in the state, who can serve as motivational examples provided that, alongside responsibility, they also take authority for decision-making and adopting policies that will be gender-sensitive and thus positive for society as a whole. Moreover, according to data from the APR [Business Registers Agency], women are founders of every fourth company and every third entrepreneurial enterprise, but a question remains as to whether we should always trust the statistics, because we know that there is a practise of spouses only formally establishing a second business in the name of their partner, so the extent to which women are really represented in entrepreneurial waters is questionable.
What we are lacking in order to change these statistics are support programmes that would imply an increase in the number of public institutions and lower prices of private childcare institutions, the strengthening of the awareness of joint parenting, a more tolerant social attitude towards women who are successful and accomplished, as well as community practises aimed at strengthening self-confidence and highlighting good role models. In order to achieve faster progress, it is vital that we create space for women to realise their potential.
You believe that every woman who isn’t working represents neglected economic potential. What is NALED doing to draw attention to this and to empower women to enter the labour market?
Through its work, NALED strives to contribute to gender equality and the eliminating of imposed gender roles. As a consequence of the economic and social problems of previous decades, women have been squeezed out of the labour market and are insufficiently recognised as being potentially able to contribute to the advancement of society, the strengthening of the economy and the improving of standards of living.
The current situation in Serbia is such that there are fewer women employed than men, while there is also a large gender gap in salaries that ranges from 8.8 to 11%, as well as in quitting jobs to take care of the family and household. The economic empowerment of women and gender equality are in our national interest, because women account for half of the total population and the working-age population, and that’s why it’s also an economic imperative for us to put that human capital to work.
In the amendment to the Law on the Procedure for Registration in the Real Estate Cadastre, NALED ensured that spouses who acquire real estate during a marriage are automatically registered in the real estate cadastre as holders of joint property ownership rights, which is a huge contribution to the socioeconomic affirmation of women.
The Ethno Network that exists under the auspices of NALED is a vocational platform that promotes our national heritage and provides support for female entrepreneurship, and thus successfully connects the economy and culture. Since its establishment in 2005, it has been committed to working to create sources of income for women who have been unemployed for a long time, as well as to creating opportunities for those who are more agile to become self-employed. And the results that we’ve achieved testify to that. We’ve managed to help more than 1,000 women become professionally trained through the Ethno Network, to pass through our training programmes, procure equipment, form associations, establish cooperation with municipalities and design products – with the support of the Ethno Network – that they will succeed in selling as business gifts.
Through engagements in the Ethno Network, many women have gained their first work experience, connected their career status and met the conditions to receive a pension, and built for themselves creative jobs that provide them with a source of income and economic independence.
Your research likewise shows that it is commonplace for women to run enterprises that are too small to apply for state aid or projects. In your opinion, what is the cure to this problem: empowering women to work in management positions or some kind of affirmative action measures that the state could prescribe for applications for state funds?
The economic power imbalance is a key obstacle to achieving equality, and there are numerous challenges in the awarding of support to women entrepreneurs. Through the project that we implemented together with the Office of UN Women a few years ago, we saw that, for every dinar of support that women receive, companies that are run by men receive as much as 4.6 dinars. The problem is that such programmes don’t usually target service activities, where women are more represented than they are in manufacturing, which is dominated by men. Similarly, collateral is often sought in the form of immovable assets, and we know that women are only the owners of one in every four real estate properties and struggle to meet this important prerequisite for receiving support. So, systemic obstacles exist that need to be eliminated.
We also see with the example of artisanal handicraft work that financial assistance that’s allocated from public funds is a precious form of support that’s available, but the problem is that the programmes offered are not aimed specifically at this target group, but rather at civil society organisations, including women’s associations, and that this often boils down to ad hoc support, rather than well-designed and continuous empowerment programmes. We need programmes to protect heritage and register on the national list, but also for registering to provide eligibility to apply for other types of assistance. Likewise, an effective support mechanism could be implemented through social public procurement, and for the protocol of mayors and the state to contact precisely those associations that deal with traditional handicraft production when they require specific business gifts.
You recently spoke about the position of rural women as a group that is perhaps in the toughest position among women. How did you tangibly help these women through the project “Women as drivers of the rural economy”?
We implemented the project “Women as drivers of the rural economy” in cooperation with the Coordination Body for Gender Equality and with the financial support of UN Women. With a view to the fact that rural women are a particularly vulnerable category, that their position has become tougher and more complex due to insufficient investment in rural areas, through this project we also wanted to highlight positive examples of municipalities that are working to improve the position of these women. We conducted specific support measures for women engaged in traditional crafts in Bela Palanka, Pirot, Knjaževac, Sremska Mitrovica, Inđija, Odžaci and Sombor. We worked on education, creating space and securing other conditions for work, organising training courses and weaving colonies. What we need is for there to be masses of these kinds of support programmes, for them to become permanent, systematic, because that’s the best way to encourage this target group.
We are encouraged to see ever more women holding important positions in the state, who can serve as motivational examples provided that, alongside responsibility, they also take authority for decision-making and adopting policies that will be gender-sensitive and thus positive for society
Another area where you are also extremely active is digital transformation. To what extent are women actively engaged in the development of new digital solutions in this field, and in the management of digital transformation projects?
New information and communications technologies, the internet, and the comprehensive digitisation that is underway, have not only transformed existing business models, but rather also created opportunities for women to express their development potential. According to data from the Start-up Scanner 2022 research, which was conducted by the Digital Serbia Initiative, the percentage of women among the founders of start-ups in Serbia stands at 20.5%, which is aligned with the global average of women accounting for 20% of founders, but is above the European average of 15.5%. However, one of the obstacles that they face, and which impacts greatly on their operations, is a lack of sources of funding, with female teams not having such diverse sources of capital as those available to male and mixed-gender teams.
NALED provided its own contribution to this, because within the scope of the StarTech programme, which we implement with the financial support of company Philip Morris, we have already awarded two rounds of grants for the development of innovation among local small businesses and for their digital transformation. Among the 57 recipients of grants, who received total support of two million dollars, as many as 23 of the projects – representing about 40% of the total – are led by women, as company founders or members of start-up teams. We are very proud of that, and we invite other large, socially responsible companies to help entrepreneurship in Serbia, particularly women working in the domain of digitisation and digital transformation, in this or a similar way.
The economic empowerment of women and gender equality are in our national interest, because women account for half of the total population and the working-age population
The economic power imbalance is a key obstacle to achieving equality, and there are numerous challenges in the awarding of support to women entrepreneurs
We need masses of the kind of support programmes we implemented through the project “Women as drivers of the rural economy”, because that’s the best way to encourage this target group