Dana Reizniece-Ozola is Latvia’s Minister of Finance. Before assuming this post, she served as the minister for economic affairs from November 2014-February 2016. She was a representative in the Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, for the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) from 2010-2015. While in the Saeima, Reizniece-Ozola was chairperson of the Commission on Education, Culture and Science, member of the Legal Affairs Commission, and member of the European Affairs Commission. Ms. Reizniece-Ozola is an accomplished chess player and has held the title of Woman Grandmaster since 2001. In this interview, she talks about the glass ceiling and gender equality in Latvia.
Muftah: According to Eurostat, 51% of management positions in Latvia are held by women. What does this number mean to you? Did this come as a surprise, as a woman and female politician?
Dana Reizniece-Ozola (DRO): It was not a surprise to me because it really feels like women have quite a large share in top management positions. But I do think a better look needs to be taken at this number, because it is my impression that while women are in top management positions they are usually in the second tier. The very top positions are still held by men, while women are the ones doing the heavy lifting. The public sector in Latvia is also very feminine. Just look at the Ministry of Finance. While the minister has usually been a man, the ministry is full of women; it is actually difficult to find men. This can be explained partly by the public sector’s lower salaries. If a woman is married and the man is the main breadwinner, she can afford to work in the public sector.
I spoke with economist Dr. Raita Karnīte who pointed out that there are a lot of micro-enterprises in Latvia, a sector in which women are overrepresented. If you break the numbers down by sector, might this explain why a majority of managers are classified as women?
DRO: I think that one of the explanations is access and availability of education. Everybody gets a chance to have the best education and it is relatively cheap, if I may say so. I am an example. Coming from a modest family growing up in a little town, it was still possible for me to get a strong education. This provides a very good foundation to make your career as a woman. In Latvia, the government is also very horizontally, rather than vertically, integrated. The distance between the president, the prime minister, ministers, and others is not huge. If you are a company here, you can easily get the minister’s phone number. This horizontal governance model gives women better access to positions of power.
Although a record number of women was elected to parliament in the October 6 elections [31 women out of 100 MPs], women are still underrepresented in politics in Latvia. Based on your comments, though, it seems women are very well represented in the public administration?
DRO: The public sector is very much dominated by women.
How would you assess the policies that exist for supporting working families in which both partners have a full-time job?
DRO: I think Latvia is very well-positioned in this respect. There are two sides to the story. Because of the country’s demographic decline, we have allocated quite a bit of funding, and offer very strong support to families that want to have children. This includes all the preconditions for staying at home, if a mother or father wants to do so. Leave is available for both parents. For those who want to keep working, the municipalities are obliged to provide a kindergarten. It is quite a good system compared to other Western European and even Scandinavian countries. Daycare centers operate all day – from early morning until late at night. There is also flexibility if you are a mother and are breastfeeding your child: you will be given extra time for lunch. There is still more to be done, however. Labor regulations could be made more flexible so that mothers can have work-life balance. This is something that business people are now advocating for.
There is something quite unique to Latvia: mass emigration and a consequently shrinking labor force. Does this benefit gender parity in the work force?
DRO: Not only gender parity. Latvia is still a bit of a conservative society. A majority of Latvians is not eager to employ handicapped people or those that have been imprisoned, for example. There are presumptions that dealing with these individuals is too burdensome, including having to create a special environment and working arrangements for them. This is now changing for the better, because business people and entrepreneurs understand that there is this labor shortage and the only choice is to either open the border or use the talent that we already have.
There is a lot of theorizing about women having different management and leadership styles. Some people even claim that if there were more women in politics, for example, we would have world peace. What is your take on this? In your political career, have you noticed changes when more women, say, are on committees in parliament? Do such shifts lead to different outcomes or at least to a different culture?
DRO: Yes, they lead to different opinions, different discussions and, even sometimes, different outcomes. Take the Ministry of Finance as an example. The ministry has always been the one saying “no” and expecting others to follow. When I became minister, I tried to change this mindset so that we were not the ones always saying no. Instead, we would help other ministries implement policies. I think I have managed to change the old mindset and hope the new one will remain.
With the new parliament coming in, having a third of the 100 MPs being women, do you think this will influence Latvian politics?
DRO: Yes, I hope it will foster a culture of increased discussion. Getting to the same results not with aggressive-physical fights, but by finding another way, using soft power. I also think it will shift parliament’s agenda from only taking the business perspective to also incorporating social and other issues into its work.
Do you think there has been a change in how the average Latvian looks at gender, gender relations, caring responsibilities, and career ambitions?
DRO: There is a change thanks to the women who have broken the glass ceiling – like the first female president, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, and the first woman prime minister, Laimdota Straujuma. I, myself, have been the longest serving Minister of Economic Affairs, the second woman serving in that position, and now in this one. It sets an example and provides proof that these “male” positions can be handled very well, probably even better, by women. It has already become a norm in the country – nobody would question why the president, prime minister, and other ministers are women.