The main task of the Ministry, together with all enterprises operating in the energy sector, is to ensure Serbia is a country with energy stability and that these two sectors contribute as much as possible to GDP growth and the development of Serbia. At the same time, I will continue to fight for women who have proven themselves with their skills, knowledge and innovation to have the opportunity to prove their leadership potential
I’ve had to prove myself throughout my entire career, and I found it much harder going at work than my male colleagues. And almost every woman will understand that, because we know how much effort, work and energy is behind every woman, and that it’s necessary for us to prove ourselves much more in order to succeed. However, for me, tripping up and attempting to humiliate me just because I’m a woman in a “man’s business” provided motivation for me to work even harder and to achieve results that are visible and that no one can dispute – says Zorana Mihajlović, Minister of Mining and Energy, for whom this second area is a “typically male” department.
Prejudices and gender stereotypes are deeply rooted, not only in our society but worldwide, says our interlocutor, because we are taught from an early age which games are for girls and which are for boys, which is further carried to so-called “men’s and women’s” jobs. “We often hear boys being told not to cry like a girl or girls being told not to fight for themselves like some tomboy, while men who do housework are under the thumb. Well, let’s be honest by saying that we also contribute ourselves to such concepts,” adds Mihajlović.
To what extent are women present in management positions in the industries under your jurisdiction, and how much are those functions reserved for men?
– Studies conducted at the global level show that women are insufficiently represented in the top management positions in the energy sector, which represents a loss for these companies and a lack of talent, ideas and innovation.
When it comes to ministries and institutions operating in this area, I can state with pride that, while I was in charge of the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, of 61% of employed women, 43% were at the first level of decision-making. Upon arriving at the Ministry of Mining and Energy, I found 18% of women in those positions, and I’m certain that we’ll change that percentage, because women have proven – with their skills, knowledge and innovation – that they have strong leadership potential. And I will continue to fight for that.
When it comes to public companies, at EPS, for example, women account for 20% of employees and occupy only 13% of top management positions (supervisory board, director and executive directors). At the Electricity Network of Serbia (EMS), women make up 22% of employees and occupy 36% of positions in middle management. And when it comes to women in top management positions, EMS is certainly among the world’s leading energy companies, with women holding 56% of leading positions.
I can state with pride that, while I was in charge of the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, of 61% of employed women, 43% were at the first level of decision-making
What are your priorities for the period ahead when it comes to the work of the ministry?
– The main task of the Ministry, together with all enterprises operating in the energy sector, is to ensure Serbia is a country with energy stability, that we have enough energy and energy sources, of sufficient quality. Energy, along with mining, is important for stability, but that’s not all. These two sectors can contribute much more to the GDP growth and development of Serbia. There are many projects that have been launched in previous years and that need to be completed or accelerated, as well as new ones that are in some preparatory phase. There is a lot of potential in the energy and mining sector that almost isn’t utilised at all, and that’s something we will deal with in this department.
Serbia has all the required conditions to also be an important corridor and hub for energy and energy sources in this part of Europe, just as it already is in transport, thanks to investments in infrastructure during the previous period. This means making the Turkish Stream pipeline operational, as well as building a gas interconnection towards Bulgaria, which is important for diversifying gas supply sources, expanding the underground gas storage facility in Banatski Dvor, then building the Trans-Balkan Corridor, investing in oil and product pipelines, and strengthening the distribution network for electricity and gas. Energy infrastructure is just as important as transport infrastructure for economic growth and investment. Just as there are no investments where there are no roads, so there are no investments without a secure energy supply, or when that supply is lacking in quality. In addition to the fact that these are all important preconditions for investments generally, great potential also exists to attract new investments in energy and mining.
In order to ease the enticing of new investments, we plan – together with the World Bank – to introduce electronic procedures in energy and mining, following the model of e-permits in the construction sector. The goal of e-Energy and e-Mining reforms is to make all procedures in these areas electronic, and for us to increase transparency and predictability for investors, reduce costs and shorten procedures, whether they relate to energy permits and connections to electricity, gas and heating, or procedures relating to geological exploration and mining. This will require amendments to certain laws and other regulations, and in practise this would mean all procedures being carried out electronically, without the need to visit counters, and all important information relevant for one investor being published in a completely transparent manner, from the publishing of price lists, precisely defining procedures and the possibility of monitoring cases, to statistics on the efficiency of energy companies.
You’ve said that the Washington Agreement also implies the diversification of the “sometimes closed” domestic energy market. What does that mean in practical terms?
Diversifying natural gas supply is an issue of Serbia’s energy security, because Serbia has small quantities of its own natural gas and relies on imports of this energy source. That’s why it’s important to have the possibility of acquiring gas from several different directions, but also from different sources. It is important for Serbia to have as many partners as possible, just like we have in the transport infrastructure, where projects are implemented by European, American, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Azerbaijani and other world companies.
In that sense, the Washington Agreement represents a chance for Serbia to gain new partners in this sector, alongside those that we currently have. Everything that is being done, every step taken in this sector, will be in the interest of Serbia and its citizens. Diversification is one topic, while another topic is Gazivoda Lake. The economic agreement from Washington provides the possibility for Gazivoda Lake to be used for the benefit of all, because it is an important natural resource. I don’t see why we shouldn’t consider projects that would include the participation of Serbs from Kosovo, as well as foreign partners. I think that divisions like those during the Cold War era have long since been overcome.
Women account for half of the government today. Is that merely numerical equality or essential equality?
First of all, let me remind you that in 2014, at the suggestion of then Prime Minister and today President Aleksandar Vučić to form the Coordination Body for Gender Equality, Serbia already stood out as the only country in Europe that had a deputy prime minister in charge of coordinating the work of all institutions in this field. This highlights our strong political readiness to improve the position of women in Serbia, as well as our unquestionable commitment to create equal conditions for all citizens. And just as the formation of the Coordination Body was an important advancement, I’m also convinced that, with the larger number of women in government, we will send a clear message that Serbia is developing into a society of equal opportunities for all, and I’m personally happy about that. It is important that women’s voices are heard in places where decisions are made, and I’m certain that the new female ministers in the Government will prove that they can lead Serbia forward with their knowledge and dedicated work.
Serbia has all the required conditions to also be an important corridor and hub for energy and energy sources in this part of Europe, just as it already is in transport, thanks to investments in infrastructure during the previous period
You are the president of the Coordination Body for Gender Equality in Serbia. How equal are women really in Serbia today?
I’m proud of everything we’ve done over the past few years to improve the position of women in our society. Along with the laws and strategies that we’ve adopted and improved, which also represent a prerequisite for our further development and path towards the European Union, we are one of the few countries in the world that has introduced gender responsive budgeting, in such a way that the introduction of gender principles in budget planning has become a legal obligation. The fact that we are making continuous progress in this area is also shown by the Gender Equality Index, which we were the first country outside the EU to calculate and on which we achieved a result that was 3.4 points better between two reports.
However, there is still much more work ahead of us, because as long as a single woman is the victim of domestic and partner violence, as long as child marriages are not eradicated, as long as women are paid less than men for the same work, and up to 16% less, or as long as women spend twice as much time on household chores and caring for children and the elderly, we won’t have finished the job.
What can and should the government do to improve the position of women, who have carried a greater burden of redundancies, work risks and increased workloads at home during the pandemic?
With the express intention of responding in the best way to the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic and the crisis it has caused, which impacts on women and men in various ways, the Coordination Body for Gender Equality has sent a list of recommendations to the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, NALED, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Foreign Investors, the Serbian Association of Managers and the Ministry of Economy, encouraging employers to respect the economic principles of women’s empowerment prescribed by the United Nations during this time of crisis.
It is known that women are at the front lines in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, because they represent the majority of those employed in the health and social sector, retail chains, care jobs and taking care of their own household and family members. All of this puts them in an unfavourable and more sensitive position. That’s why – with the support of the EU Delegation to Serbia, the British Embassy and UN Women – we sent recommendations to employers to include activities in their business operations that will reduce the gender gap that exists in every society, which includes, among others, flexible working hours, job preservation, supporting female victims of violence or directing donations towards organisations that provide assistance to vulnerable categories of women.
There has been a positive response to this initiative, for example one of the organisations that supported the initiative is the Serbian Association of Managers, which brings together more than 400 managers with over 70,000 employees. I’m sure that it is only through joint efforts and cooperation that we can contribute to reducing the negative socio-economic impact of the crisis on all citizens of Serbia and ensuring the fastest possible recovery of our economy, which both women and men should contribute to equally.
Upon arriving at the Ministry of Mining and Energy, I found 18% of women in those positions, and I’m certain that we’ll change that percentage
When it comes to women in top management positions, EMS is certainly among the world’s leading energy companies, with women holding 56% of leading positions
While a shift of 1.2 points was recorded at the EU level, Serbia made almost three times as much progress in less than three years