Advice for Change Makers: Navigating the Political Arena

Posted By:
Shalini Singh
March 7, 2023

Meet Jana Zifciakova, a WaveMakers alumna and a woman in politics! 🌍 Jana is fluent in six languages including English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovak and Romanian. With extensive experience in press and media relations, social media, and content creation, she is a pro at communicating effectively. Having worked in Brussels at esteemed organizations like the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Committee of the Regions, Jana is an expert in politics, foreign policy, diplomacy, EU policies, public policy, and government relations. Currently, she is working at the European Labour Authority (ELA) in Bratislava, steering ELA’s Management Board, coordinating briefings, and external relations. She believes that people are the greatest asset for any organization since it is their abilities, knowledge, and experience that can’t be replaced. Considering the global participation rate of women in national-level parliaments is only at 24.5% (October 2019), the WaveMakers team had the pleasure of interviewing Jana to get the insider’s scoop into the world of politics.

Let’s learn more about Jana’s personal experience and her journey into the world of politics. Jana educated us briefly on the benefits of having more women in political roles, explaining that this often leads to better outcomes for society! 🌟 Countries with higher percentages of women in politics are less likely to commit human rights abuses and prioritize social justice. Women tend to focus more on social issues like education and healthcare and have higher emotional intelligence and empathy.👩💪🏽 During the pandemic, countries led by women had proactive and coordinated responses resulting in better outcomes and acceptance of restrictive measures. Female leaders from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, and New Zealand were recognized for their rapid response and transparent communication. 🌍 The positive examples of female political leadership during the pandemic are very encouraging!

When talking about barriers for women to enter politics, as per Jana’s personal experience women in politics face invisible barriers early on in their careers that men don’t experience. 🤔 Even getting a first career opportunity or traineeship can be challenging for women due to predominantly male recruitment processes. 📈 Women also tend to be held to a much higher performance standard and are less likely to have access to promotion opportunities. But it’s important to call out these barriers as gender inequality and not blame oneself. 🙌🏽

‘I spent a lot of time trying to fix myself but I realized the problem was not in me but in the way society perceives women.’ Let’s break down these barriers and achieve true equality!👏🏽

What are the common obstacles that women face when trying to join the political arena?

The main obstacle for women in politics is sexism! 🚫👩‍💼 Women face inequitable work environments and more subtle forms of sexism, like being interrupted more often when speaking or assumed to be an executive’s assistant at important meetings. Jana stresses that ingrained biases against women may also limit our opportunities for advancement and respect. These unfair biases constitute a big blocker for many aspiring women politicians.

‘There is a tendency to interpret the behavior of men and women very differently. Men’s assertive behavior is perceived as strong and direct but never aggressive. But when a woman exhibits the same behavior she is perceived as aggressive, bossy, and pushy. ‘

Balancing work and family responsibilities is also an obstacle, as women are often expected to shoulder more household duties despite having full-time jobs. ‘I believe that behind every successful female politician is an amazing man who supports her fully by taking on family responsibilities and being her biggest cheerleader.’ Educated men who champion gender equality at home can help women overcome this obstacle and make strides in the political arena. 👨🏻‍👩🏻‍👧🏻‍👦🌟

Jana suggests that to navigate political structures women should focus on 3 main things:

  1. What they know — the information for which they become the go-to person.
  2. What they are good at — the things that they can do that other people cannot.
  3. Who they know — all the relationships they’ve built and maintained over time.

She also emphasizes the importance of possessing multiple forms of intelligence, such as IQ (intellectual quotient), EQ (emotional quotient), SQ (social quotient), but also PQ (political quotient), AQ (adversity quotient), and EIQ (ethics and integrity quotient). Additionally, women should use soft skills such as kindness and empathy, which make them unique.

‘Kindness is the foundation of success. What many people misunderstand is that it comes down to being weak or soft, when in fact kindness is a strength that is greatly underrated.’ Power is not about being ruthless, but rather about managing trust, being able to influence and motivate others. Lastly, women should always try to maintain their authenticity.💫

When asked if she has role models in politics, Jana enthusiastically shared her appreciation for Nicola Sturgeon! ✨ Jana admires how Sturgeon was able to transform Scottish politics and make it women-friendly with her authentic and approachable but firm leadership style. She also commends Sturgeon’s ability to show empathy and compassion while still being a strong and respected political leader. Jana was particularly impressed with how Sturgeon explained her decision to step down as First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party, showing that a strong politician can also be authentic and sincere. 🙌

Jana further shares her experience and advice for women interested in politics. She wishes she had known it’s much harder for women and they are held to a different standard than men. Appearance, behavior, and personality are scrutinized more than actions. Women also have to work harder to be considered equal and taken seriously. She encourages women to have more courage, accept failure, and reject non-constructive feedback🪐.

‘If they are not wealthy or from a privileged background, a political career is out of reach for women. They are less likely to receive support, sponsorship, or loans for their political endeavors. I would also like to make a disclaimer, that my career is linked with politics and decision-making, but strictly speaking, I did not pursue a political career as I was not elected.’

Jana highlights the importance of taking responsibility for setbacks and having the courage to make unpopular decisions in politics. She notes that the mindset is more important than the skill set to thrive and succeed as a politician. This mindset is what separates the best leaders from the rest and it is also what drives people to vote for you and accept you. 💪🏼

Jana also gives some amazing advice for women who want to enter politics! First of all, you don’t have to behave like a man to succeed in politics. Wear what you like, whether that’s pants suits or dresses. You can be formal, serious, and feminine all at once🌞! Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to be a female version of a man to succeed in this world.

Jana recommends applying the principles of chess to politics. This means planning ahead, watching over the whole chess board, and being cautious by restraining hasty moves. And remember, when people underestimate you, that’s when you can make a breakthrough. Don’t be afraid to let your adversaries think they’re winning, just like in a chess game.

But what if you fall down?☘️ Jana says that it’s actually in the darkest times and the most difficult moments that you can see how strong and powerful you truly are. Don’t blame the system or anyone else for your lack of success. Instead, take every opportunity and every problematic period of your life as a chance to grow and become a better version of yourself.

So, ladies, remember to be yourself, think strategically, and stay strong and optimistic. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to making a difference in politics, but also beyond! 💖

“Disclaimer: This interview was undertaken by Jana Zifciakova in her personal capacity and not in her professional capacity. All the opinions expressed are solely Jana Zifciakova’s personal opinions and do not reflect the view of the European Labour Authority, the European Committee of the Regions, the European Parliament, and the European Commission.”