Women tend to be quiet overachievers. They are said to work twice as hard as they juggle work with family. Most (Hungarian) women do not want special rewards for that; they just want to be recognized in their own right. The creators of the Women of Excellence Award of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary do not necessarily agree: they believe outstanding women deserve recognition.
Andrea Jádi Németh, managing partner at Jádi Németh Attorneys at Law, and vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (AmCham), has been the president of the award jury since its inception. As the only female board member at that time, she promoted the Women of Excellence Award with the country manager of Morgan Stanley Hungary. The basic idea came from a similar MS award in Hong Kong. Yet they wanted to launch a focused award that appreciated balanced achievements at home, at work and in/for the society.
Q: In the first year, the award was given to women who excelled professionally and in their private life. How could you measure that with no insight into the latter?
A: The selection procedure for the jury and me is well tailored yet not easy. Although the system is built to filter worthy candidates, both years showed that there are many excellent women around us, who live exemplary lives and have extraordinary achievements. Nonetheless, each year we create a shortlist from a pool of applications, or rather nominations, which must come from people other than the candidate. Of course, in order to have a strong candidacy, nominations have to be very detailed, taking stock of all the talents, features and experience these women possess. Then, following well-defined criteria, we choose the finalists with whom we meet in person. During the interviews it is always amazing to see how flashes of brilliance come through and truly inspirational, dedicated and charismatic women get revealed. Society needs role models and I am most privileged to be part of finding them.
Q: What is this year’s topic?
A: We had work-life balance as a main theme in the first year, outstanding women leaders in the second and this year we are looking for the most promising and proven female talent under 35, young achievers. Every time we try and highlight some different aspect of women’s excellence but balance remains important. With female executives, we did not want to reward a manager but a charismatic, true leader who is visionary in the noblest sense
This time we wish to create a platform for harnessing talent, to show case excellence and innovation among young Hungarian women. The Women of Excellence Award will now recognize and celebrate exceptional young women who have made noticeable contributions to society at an early age in the areas of business, leadership and academia. In short, the award aims at inspiring the youth to get involved and pursue their dreams in order to better shape our present and the future. That is the reason why it is so important to reach out with the award to the broadest audience possible.
Ildikó Szüts is the communications director of OTP Bank, also last year’s winner of AmCham’s Women of Excellence Award. This year, however, she swaps seats and will help the jury pick the most talented Young Achiever.
Q: How do you measure success?
A: Obviously, success is measured based on one’s professional merits and also on achievements in one’s private life, which is strongly related. For me, success is when I am able to manage these two in such a way that I am satisfied with both. Managing a marriage and juggling it with a job is a success: family serves as a background for work. There are always trade-offs, though. I once canceled an international conference as my son came down with avian flu. But I can also recall a Mother’s Day celebration in kindergarten where only my husband was present, as I was abroad. It is impossible to do everything with the same momentum. You need to have every minute scheduled. For me, the working day kicks off at 6 AM and runs until 11 in the evening. Sometimes you steal a few hours from the one to devote to the other. Without a strict timetable, I could not cope.
Q: You received the Women of Excellence Award partly in recognition of this. How did you assess it?
A: People working in the field of economy have hard times just the same as others. There are always tough spells to move away from. Awards in general help you recharge and give you the strength to move on. They offer reassurance that it is worth continuing your work, and they also help motivate the group you oversee. What was different with this award is that, unlike most awards that appraise professional merits, this one also honored the segments of life that are not work-related. How much one stands up for or is involved in a community, what things they give their names to, etc. This was also the first time when I knew the other nominees, and I felt truly privileged to be part of such an illustrious group.
Q: This year you will be the member of the jury. How will you decide whom to select?
A: There are always women who have to be within the circle of nominees. Their work, their colleagues’ feedback and their achievements predestine them to be there. Choosing the very best from the best is the hardest part. However, I have three criteria I will be particularly careful about. First, can she set an example with what she has achieved? Showing best practices to younger women is important so that they dare step up. If they can see that others are capable of doing it, they will believe they can, too. I once held a lecture for female leaders and asked them why they thought there were so few women executives. The answer was because most did not think they could make it.
I will also be watchful of how much effort candidates have made to get where they are. Finally, beyond virtues in work, it is important to see what other ways they contribute to the world. Kind of like CSR, but not limited to that. I think that giving lectures at a university or mentoring young people are just as valuable. At the bank, I also welcome interns and like to introduce them to the workings of the place.
Q: You say women are still reluctant to achieve high goals. What do you think accounts for that?
A: It is a question of culture. Many women claim they should be recognized based on their aptitude, not because they are women. It could work if the older generation passed down their experience to the young ones. I am not saying that legal measures [such as introducing quotas - ed.] are not useful: they would probably help women quickly catch up in number terms. But changing the mindset takes far more time.