Thoughts on modern feminism – with Paulina Dejmek-Hack

A few weeks ago, a few of us at the Gentlewomen’s Club received an e-mail from one of our members. She had followed an online event for International Women’s Day where she had the opportunity to interact with a high-level professional woman who shared her experiences about gender biased behaviour at work and recommended some ideas on how the society can help women to re-conciliate work and family life. Turns out the lady she had met was Paulina Dejmek-Hack, the Director for General Affairs at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union (FISMA). And so our dear member reached out to us, to collaborate for an interview. Together, we had the chance to pick Mrs. Dejmeck-Hack’s brain on what feminism means in today’s age, whether women can truly have it all and a few other topics close to our hearts. And what a truly marvellous person she is indeed. We hope you enjoy the interview and that you will let it inspire you!

Mrs. Dejmek-Hack’s answers are provided in personal capacity only.

GWC: Do you consider yourself as a strong woman? How you can define such a term?
PDH: Well, that is not a term I would use for myself, even if I have occasionally been referred to in that way. I hope that I am someone who is professional, considerate and helpful and can be an example for others, but the word “strong” probably means different things to different people. Moreover, I believe that most of us – probably – are strong in some situations, less strong in others.

GWC: What does feminism mean for you? Do you consider that many women today feel quite relaxed regarding what their predecessors have already obtained in the past? Maybe the content of feminism has changed and we are currently fighting for different things?
PDH: I think feminism might mean different things to different people. The concept has probably also changed over time – the fight for women’s voting rights and other fundamental issues that we now take for granted was certainly quite different from the battles that we face today. For me personally, it is – for example – about equal opportunities and equal chances, it is about sharing family burdens more fairly. Compared to the situation for women 50 years ago (or still, today, in some parts of the world), it is clear that many things have improved in Europe and that we have come a long way. But there is still a lot to be done – the salary gap persists, more women than men work part-time (by design rather than by choice) and women are still underrepresented in the most senior positions.

GWC: You had different posts during you career and you have been economic advisor of Jean-Claude Juncker and also Director for strategy in the UK Task force. What are the obstacles you have faced in your career as a woman ?
PDH: I cannot point to any particular obstacle. There were ups and downs – a few regrets, but I guess that is true for most people. I have been very fortunate during my career to have enjoyed the formidable support of a number of phenomenal men – and women. That said, in my experience, young women often need to work considerably harder and be much better than their male counterparts to be seen and recognised. Fortunately, that problem decreases with age, but it remains – in my view – a real issue.

“In my experience, young women often need to work considerably harder and be much better than their male counterparts to be seen and recognised.”

GWC: Could you please describe us a normal day for you? (working hours, time with family)?
PDH: I have the privilege of being the mum of 8-year old twins so the mornings are all about getting them ready for school, preparing their breakfast and taking them to the school bus. Like many others, I am currently working from home so I spend a lot of time in front of the screen, from morning to late. The one good thing during the Covid time is that we often manage to have dinner together the whole family, which is very rare in normal times. Sports are important for me so I always make sure that I fit in a run, no matter how busy I am.

GWC: What should be done so that women have it all?
PDH: Well, for me, this is not the right question because I do not think anyone – neither man, nor woman – can have it all. Life is about trade-offs and finding compromises. And what is right for one person may be wrong for someone else. There is no policy or legislation that would make women have it all. In the end, it boils down to individual choices – and the consequences of these choices. If you spend most of the day at work, you will spend less time with your children, because there are only 24 hours in the day. However, where policy and laws have a role to play is to make sure that women – and men – can make the choices that are right for them and their individual situation, and are not forced to, for example stop working because childcare is unavailable or unaffordable. Importantly also – young parents need to support each other. Personally, I am extremely lucky to have a husband who has always supported me and fully believes in equal opportunities.

Life is about trade-offs and finding compromises. And what is right for one person may be wrong for someone else. There is no policy or legislation that would make women have it all.”

GWC: We heard recently what you said about mandatory paternity leave and how it worked in Sweden. Do you consider that it is possible to adopt and apply such family policies in all Member States or it is a matter of patriarchal culture in some EU Member States?
PDH: It is true that I believe that parental leave reserved for the father is helpful, because it removes the choice and the need for potentially difficult discussions with employers. If it is in the law, almost all fathers will use this possibility, and it becomes mainstream. As a consequence, employers will know that most younger employees – women and men – will take some time off when they become parents. In this way, the risk of women missing promotions or opportunities because of taking care of their children is reduced, because their male peers are in the same situation. That said, I also recognise that views on this may be different in different countries and there is probably no one-size-fits-all solution.

GWC: What are your thoughts on how Covid and its measures have and will affect women (working from home and primary caretaker for family, underpaid health workers ect). Are women just supposed to carry a flawed system or could the crisis generate policies to remedy these injustices?
PDH: I believe there are already studies showing that women are more impacted by the pandemic than men from a societal point of view, with, for example, women being more likely to lose their jobs. The situation is particularly concerning in developing countries, where closed schools means that many girls – more than boys – will not return to school at all, with ensuing risks of poverty, early marriages etc. This is of course extremely serious and something that we should not allow to be forgotten in the post-pandemic time. However, I am not too hopeful that the pandemic will fundamentally improve the situation for women.

Love,

GWC & Vasiliki Kalimeri

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