Communication 1 of the Keys to Empowering Women


Anna Jankovich

With International Women’s Day falling on March 8, we asked communications coach and trainer Anna Jankovich to identify some of the trends around female CEOs in Hungary.

Jankovich is the founder of “Pods,” moderated conversations with selected business leaders that give them a neutral space in which to talk and share experiences.

“Communication is the number one challenge and issue, when there are conflicts in companies as well as in personal lives,” she tells the Budapest Business Journal. “My purpose is to empower people’s communication through sharing, learning and growing without judgement. Giving advice is not allowed in the Pods and that instantly has a positive impact on everyone’s communication.”

BBJ: How many CEO participants do you have in your various Pods, and what is the percentage of women to men?

Anna Jankovich: I have 18 CEOs and managing directors presently who are Pod members. The percentage today is 70% women and 30% men. When the concept was developed, it started as a pilot project with eight women. This began as a casual concept in spring 2018 and of the original women, six remain Pod members in Hungary and three have relocated. These numbers absolutely do not reflect the natural gender balance of the business world in Budapest.

The idea is to have mixed Pods, ideally half male and half female, half Hungarian, half foreigners and I am not too far from that. There are no egos, everyone is at the same level with similar challenges, despite being from different sectors. They truly learn, listen, share and support each other in a unique way. The take-aways that every member is required to contribute at the end of each Pod evening is where the added value comes to life.

Before COVID, I managed to set up a second CEO Pod, as well as a first HRD (Human Resources Directors) Pod, and during the first wave of the pandemic I recruited a third CEO Pod that met in April the first time. Once these Pods were established, staying connected through Zoom proved to be even more valuable. Today, I have a new “standby” Entrepreneur Pod ready to go and several more interested CEOs.

BBJ: How many of those women CEOs are Hungarian? What do you think this says about gender balance in Hungary?

AJ: Out of the 12 women CEOs to date, eight are Hungarian and four are foreigners. It is interesting to note that there seems to be more opportunities for women to grow, to climb, to have an impact and be a role model in multinationals through their international company cultures and international opportunities.

BBJ: You have said that women multinational CEOs have a different mindset to the CEOs of Hungarian companies. Could you give some concrete examples of this, and explore why you think this is so?

AJ: Based on the shared experiences in my Pods, the mindsets of women CEOs/managing directors from multinationals differ in several ways compared to Hungarian companies. There are different cultural backgrounds. If the CEO is a foreigner herself, it makes her culturally different. If the CEO is a Hungarian, there is a high chance she has studied/lived/worked abroad. Every international company has its own company culture that it wants to introduce locally, and there are different expectations and training in this respect. For example, compliance in multinationals is generally more important and less talked about in Hungarian companies.

Next is language. Multinationals require another language (other than Hungarian), which opens dialogue, opportunities, perspectives, growth mindsets and allows connections outside Hungary (through international conferences, webinars, workshops etc.)

And then there is management style. Multinationals focus on team work, collaboration, sharing short- and long-term visions, being open to communication and transparency, champion the importance of feedback culture. They have a strong mission/vision, and empower their teams. That isn’t always the case with traditional Hungarian companies.

BBJ: What do you think can be done to encourage more women to rise to the top in Hungarian companies?

AJ: Slowly there are changes in women reaching senior leadership roles, but there is quite a way to go, and not just in Hungary. What can be done to encourage women in Hungary? It needs to begin at the school level. Talk to, and teach, students about equality, self-confidence, encouragement. And we need to break the bias in favor of men and studies at technical universities, for instance.

Then we come to dialogue. Men and women need to listen to each other and express their needs. More specifically, companies have to actively talk to female leaders. I am not sure how active they are at that. We need more communication with male leaders for them to understand the impact women in leadership roles can have on business, sharing numeric evidence with them and gaining their support. Importantly, men outnumber women both in the selection process and decision making, and that needs to change.

In the workplace, we need to create a pipeline of talent and offer special programs or training for women, as in many U.S. companies. Support for re-entering the workforce after a long maternity leave is vital, so women do not feel they need to make a choice between career and family. Company cultures that focus on diversity and inclusion also provides encouragement.

That leads to the institutional area. There is a very slow increase in the number of women in top government positions. We need the creation of more women’s networks where Hungarians and expats can really mix. There are a few platforms, but they are mainly in Hungarian, for Hungarians. For international diversity to happen, there has to be added value for all participants. More female role models are needed per se. There are women who are ready to rise, but the Hungarian cultural and political position implies a preference towards males, and promotes the role of women as mothers (i.e. at home). The support of the partner/spouse is key; without that, women will have a challenging time, and it requires an ongoing discussion and partnership.

Having said all of that, the drive and interest is first needed from women themselves. A strong will is required to reach the top, especially in a mostly male dominated society where education, family and cultural exposure play a key role in shaping such characters.

View From the Pod

“I am an ally of women and gender equality because I’m working with many fantastic women internationally bringing in great ideas regardless of their color or age. I want to encourage my male colleagues to participate and champion gender equality and make the world an inclusive place.”

András Szakonyi, senior VP EMEA, Iron Mountain

View From the Pod

“Female leadership brings more color to management and is a perfect fit to the market need of less arrogance and more collaboration becoming the new normal. Women demonstrate high levels of empathy, are great at multitasking, organizing and caring, adding new elements to the decision-making process.”

Tibor Bodor, country manager, CEO, ING Bank

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  March 12, 2021.

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