Vera Budway-Strobach proves that gender equality brings a competitive advantage for business
She works as Group Diversity Manager in Erste Group Bank AG, in Vienna, Austria. By creating new, forward-thinking policies, she helps make the working environment at Erste more diverse and inclusive; promotes intercultural and intergenerational dialogue; and assists with the integration of employees over 50, which are mostly women.
Proving that diversity drives performance within an organisation, Ms Budway-Strobach has become one of Europe’s preeminent supporters of gender equality in senior positions in both the public and private sector.
Of Czech origin but born and raised in United States, Ms Budway-Strobach decided to return to the Czech Republic after finishing her studies. In 2008, she started to work as Chief Diversity Officer in Ceska Sporitelna (Czech Savings Bank, part of Erste Group).
The same year, Ms Budway-Strobach helped launch the programme ‘Diversitas’. Utilising a partnership agreement with the British Chamber of Commerce, the programme offered cross-business mentoring for women aspiring to senior level management positions. The ‘Diversitas’ programme also provides mentoring for high-potential women, leadership training for female branch managers, soft skills workshops for women employees and networking events. Embracing the idea that gender equality was an intrinsic value for the company, the programme supported work-life balance by extending flexible work arrangements (including to those above 55) and by setting up an extranet portal for employees on parental leave. It has also offered child care subsidies and has started granting one week of paid leave for new fathers.
‘There are no quick wins; we are trying to break down stereotypes, which take a long time to change.’
In addition to fostering employee motivation, Diversitas was designed to build a diverse culture within Erste Group. Thus, the programme implemented gender neutral language and an anti-discrimination clause. In addition, it worked closely with the internal ombudsman in implementing measures to raise awareness of, prevent discrimination and harassment. The programme was closely monitored and quickly produced outstanding results: the bank was chosen as ‘Company of the Year’ in 2009 and 2011, “Workplace of the Future” in 2011 and attracted a grant from the European Social Fund.
The biggest reward, however, came from the bank’s internal acknowledgment of the value of diversity and the decision to establish diversity indicators and diversity reporting. In addition, training was provided for management to incorporate diversity as part of its leadership competence. That helped to establish the idea that today’s companies need to leverage their resources – including women employees. Future innovation, growth and competitiveness depend on how effectively companies manage diversity.
Due to Diversitas’ track record of success, in mid-2013 Ms Budway-Strobach was invited to the Vienna headquarters of Erste Group in order to lead the implementation of gender equality + policies for its 50000 employees.
In addition to her committed work for the Erste Group, Ms Budway-Strobach supports and participates in many non-profit organisations, including Congress of Women (Czech non-governmental organisation); Rotary International Prague (service organisation which bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian services); and serves on the Administrative Board of the Ceska Sporitelna Foundation, as well as on the Board of Directors of the British Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic.