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What is an executive woman like in 2014?

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Lecturers at the Budapest Business Journal’s business conference on Women in Leadership 2014 demonstrated both their ability to argue their case as well as their wit. Thanks to MKB’s hospitality, the overall atmosphere of the conference was elegant, and at the same time cozy. For those who missed the event on October 2, we offer some sampling of the conference’s best bits.

What makes a top female executive different? The richest woman in Hungary, Erika Kósa, the president of Consequit (and ex-owner of Brokernet), thinks it is a surplus of emotional intelligence. “Every top executive must possess a great deal of emotional intelligence as success is only 20% based on traditional intelligence; 80% of it is the fruit of one’s emotional intelligence,” she emphasized, citing American psychologist Daniel Goleman. “We should praise our colleagues/subordinates for their accomplishments. People in the corporate world long for recognition; we should not consider people’s achievements as self-evident: we must also give them a sense of being appreciated. In general, an executive must learn how to have an impact on people, and praise is a good way of stimulating the members of one’s team.”

“For a female executive, I have recently been inspired by five charismatic men,” said Veronika Pistyur, director of Bridge Budapest. “Namely the leaders of Prezi, LogMeIn and U-Stream.” Bridge Budapest is a joint foundation of the three startup companies mentioned above. “Values are important in business,” she said. “Vision and courage are pre-eminent,” she added. “Out of the world’s 29 leading infotech companies, only three are European firms. It will be the demise of Europe if we continue this way.”

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A virtuoso presentation was given by the director of Ispiro Consulting, András Simon, who was not stingy with great gestures toward women. “Women are more suitable for executive positions than men for several reasons. Executive women prefer compromise to battle, and they prefer reconciliation to strife. They are better communicators, and their communicative techniques are superior to those of their male counterparts. While men tend to use words either for combat, or for delivering information, or for making arguments, women pursue real dialogue and achieve better results based on consensus. Women are better at dividing their attention, while men can only concentrate on one thing at a time. This is rooted in the ancient division of labor already typical in primeval human groups [… .] Even in stereotypically male-dominated spheres, women can perform greatly as leaders. Look at car racer Kaltenborn’s stable. This stable is led at the moment by a female manager who came from India.”

Andrea Laky, managing director of Ford Hungária, says some path-breaking inventions, like bullet-proof fabric Kevlar, have been invented and developed by female engineers. “In the field of car sales, the importance of female customers is steadily on the rise. Women tend to control an increasing part of the family income today. When a family purchases a new car, the wife’s – and/or mother’s – preferences are decisive. In the car market, considered a typically male sphere, women are spending more and more these days. On average, they make about 25% of the purchases, and in the case of middle categories such as Ford Focus, women buy about 50% of new cars. It is often they who take cars to service stations. Given all that, women often complain that their demands are not taken into consideration when car manufacturers design their marketing strategies. Cars are advertised in ways that women find uninteresting or irrelevant, and the emphasis is often on the development of features which women find completely unimportant. In general, the shopping mentalities of males and females are radically different, and that is reflected in their different ways of purchasing cars as well.”

Zsófia Körmendi-Seidler, product general manager at GE Lighting, thinks that gender and ethnic diversity is vital for multinational companies. “The reason why multinational companies promote the idea of a female team is not that they believe in ideals, but because they can boost sales that way. If forty-something white males develop products, and forty-something white males do the marketing as well as the sales, then only forty-something white males will buy the product. That is the reason why gender, ethnic diversity is crucial for multinational corporations [… .] GE has its own Women’s Network. It was originally created in 1998 on the initiative of Jack Welch, CEO of the corporation in the USA, and it gradually developed into an internal network which helps female staff to coach each other.”

Zsuzsa Beke, head of communication and public affairs at Gedeon Richter, talked about how to find the balance between work and family. “It is practically impossible to perform equally well at one’s workplace and at home – but one can at least try. I could tell endless stories of how to rush from ballet class to an international meeting and back, and the adventures I had while trying to raise three children and cope with my career at the same time.” 

By quoting hard data, she demonstrated how the proportion of women gets ever smaller toward the top echelons of management. She used funny film excerpts to illustrate the difficulties of trying to harmonize raising a child with a career.

Nóra Szily, journalist and coach, gave a charismatic presentation on the relationship of media and aging. “Today, one simply does not have the freedom to age when one works in the media. The media promote a ruthless cult of youth these days. When I think about how I assist in boosting this cult while I myself am getting older in the meantime, I cannot help noticing the contradiction.” 

Kinga Györffy, storytelling consultant with the Personal Brand Institute, says that the art of storytelling is the art of convincing others and women should not be afraid to use it as a tool. “A talent for storytelling has traditionally been a male rather than a female strength, and executive women sometimes find it hard to develop their narrative side. The typical female attitude is either ‘I cannot really tell stories in a funny way’ or, ‘the stories I could tell would interest nobody’. But they must not give up trying, because the art of storytelling is really the art of convincing others. While arguments immediately provoke resistance and counter-arguments, stories immediately arouse sympathy in one’s listeners.” 

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