By Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder
Ivana is what I call a super-woman. I know that many super-women actually do not like being called like that, but it doesn’t make that less true and I stand by my statement!
She has a very responsible job in the man’s world – she is the president of Zagreb (Croatia’s capital) stock exchange, she is very active in supporting women and their career development and she’s a mother of a 7-year-old.
We met Ivana in spring 2016 when she’s joined our Balance yoga retreat and I am very happy to now share my interview with her. We talk about her job, being a woman, and the challenges that come with that as well as the big and small things she does to influence the positive change for all of us.
You are the President of the Zagreb stock exchange – it sounds and is very important. What does the job entail?
For six and a half years I am heading only the capital market in Croatia. Recently, we have also acquired the Slovenian stock exchange, so we can say we went international. My job entails running a company with 22 employees as any other but also includes following strict rules of capital markets, running new projects, opening new markets. I have studied at the Faculty of Economics in Zagreb, finished an MBA at IEDC Bled, and have also finished a number of educations in the field of finance and management.
What was your first job after graduating from university and how long was your career path until you reached this position?
My first job was in Pliva, the largest pharmaceutical company in Croatia, that was at that time listed on both Zagreb and London Stock Exchanges. This company is now entirely owned by the largest generic drug producer from Israel – Teva and is still very successful. I was really happy to start my career there. I studied and traveled a lot. It gave me international exposure in late 1990s. I have stayed there for 5 years, leaving the position of Head of Capital Markets. I was very young, only 28, but the Croatian economy was still erasing from the socialist era and was recovering from the war, so many young people managed to get really good positions early in their career.
What were the main challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
I lost my parents pretty young until I was 25 both of them were gone. I can not say I was a child, but taking into account that many young people live with their parents still in their 30’s, it was a thing differentiating me from others. It still does. I have a son now that is 7 and traditionally in Croatia, parents help with the child. I never had this help. On the other hand, it made me more determined to rely solely on my own means.
In your career, have you ever experienced discrimination just because you were a woman? And being in this position now do you still do? How do you handle it?
Discrimination is all around us: old, noneducated, poor… get discriminated against. Women get that too. You just need to look at the numbers: although women represent more than 50% of the population and also have higher numbers in finishing education, we still don’t hold the same percentage of top positions. How do you get discriminated against? In various ways and very subtle. Many women get setbacks in their work or career because they give birth. And taking into account that almost all EU countries struggle with negative birth rates, any women having a child should get all possible support from society. It does not happen.
In the business world, discrimination is also present. I don’t handle it. I fight it. I have selected to work on small issues to have some positive outcomes. I am active in pro-female organizations, I strongly support women in my organization that is pregnant, I select top female talents, train them, and promote them.
Are women still a minority to hold such a position like yours?
Big minority. Last week I was at the conference where 11 stock exchange heads were present. I was the only woman. How this can be changed? I actually wrote a paper on it for my Ph.D. I strongly started to believe in quotas. That is the only way to achieve results in the next decade. Did you know that the situation in Croatia is actually getting worse? The current parliament, elected in October 2016 has the lowest number of female representatives in history! There is even a law against it but is not being respected by Government officials. To conclude – if there is no voluntary advancement, it is the role of the Government to ensure equal chances to all its voters. It is actually very simple.
What are the main reasons you chose and love your career and what are the downsides of it?
I love my career because I can influence society and change things. They are not big things, but small steps towards a more developed, mature, and healthy society. There are some downsides: long working hours, a lot of stress. But I take it strong-yoga helps.
What qualities should a woman posses to get to the top in your line of work?
I have only one piece of advice: work hard. No matter you are a man or woman, if you work hard, if you are passionate about what you are doing, you will succeed. Be there on time, respect all the people you meet, look around, help, take into account the big picture, enjoy on the way.
What main challenges a woman must be ready to encounter in this line of work?
You get lonely sometimes. My male colleagues have their “men talks”, I am interested in different things. Also, never forget you are a woman. Be feminine, you don’t need to act like men to succeed in men’s world.
Do you agree that even in this day and age it is much harder to reach high positions in business and politics if you are a woman? Why is that and how can we change it?
Yes, it is. As I said, numbers speak for themselves. I have seen so many capable, intelligent, and strong women not managing to get through. It is not right. The change will come.
Back in 1926, Nikola Tesla said:
It is clear to any trained observer, and even to the sociologically untrained, that a new attitude toward sex discrimination has come over the world through the centuries, receiving an abrupt stimulus just before and after the World War.
This struggle of the human female toward sex equality will end in a new sex order, with the female as superior. The modern woman, who anticipates in merely superficial phenomena the advancement of her sex, is but a surface symptom of something deeper and more potent fermenting in the bosom of the race.
It is not in the shallow physical imitation of men that women will assert first their equality and later their superiority, but in the awakening of the intellect of women.
Idea, 90 years old sounds really encouraging. I will be happy if any girl born to our world has exactly same chances to be successful as any boy. This is important not because of earning more money, or getting more attention, or being on top position. It is important because it will give women freedom to be whatever they want to be. Today in newspaper I read several stories about women that were attacked or killed by their partners. If they had same opportunity to be independent and self-sustaining, I am sure we would not read this stories.
What would be your advice for women who are on their own career paths and are maybe feeling discouraged sometimes?
Learn and stay calm. Look always one step in advance. Plan, be strong. Don’t be afraid. You are as good as anyone else. Look around you, there are women who can offer help. 🙂