Professional Women in Russia and the Landscape for Working Women


How easy is it for Russian woman to climb the corporate ladder in modern day Russia? Russian women typically haven’t made their way into Russia’s management positions. However according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Russian Association of Managers, women represent 93 % of chief accountants, 70 % of personnel directors and 47 % of finance directors in 2010. But Russia still faces many hurdles when it comes to workplace equality in the corporate world. A culture of leadership discrimination, male dominance in certain sectors and a marked lack of confidence in Russian women’s ability to hold high profile positions puts todays Russia behind many of its Asian (China) and European neighbours. Tatyana Dolyakova, general director of Penny Lane Personnel recently said these statistics are promising for Russia’s women, “But in general no revolution is in sight in the market for top managers”

The present reality and the future progress

One of the biggest barriers to Russia’s career driven professional women is Russia’s culture of discrimination. For many Russians in the corporate world, there is a belief that women simply do not make competent leaders. Elvira Maymina, CEO of Russia’s Gasinvest Bank says,“One thing that I understood very early on in my career is that whatever job you do you have to learn, you have to ”soak up“ professionalism and always be a head taller than everyone following you, otherwise you stop being a leader.” The qualities demanded by this distinctly macho leadership style are often seen in Russia as unobtainable by women.

But corporate discrimination in Russia isn’t as blatant as in many of Russia’s neighbors to the east. Tatyana Dolyakova, the general director of Penny Lane Personnel says, “It is quite a rare occasion that the gender of a future employee is indicated in an employer’s request sent to a recruitment agency.” This discrimination seems to be more concentrated in the traditionally male dominated industries like aviation, technology and oil and gas rather than media and retail. Dolyakova then goes on to say “Of course, on the one hand, the world of business was created by men and therefore a handicap of this kind is not surprising, but, on the other hand, a lot depends upon the particular industry.”

Recently a lot of attention has been paid to women who seem to have beaten the odds and attained leadership in industries not traditionally held by women. Again, Dolyakova states, “There are examples of a traditionally ‘male’ business being run by a woman, like general director of Ledovo (a sea-food producer), Nadezhda Kopytina, or president of Inteko (a construction group), Yelena Baturina.” However these women are often divided carefully between a minority who are self-made and the majority who are married to Russian business magnates. Russia’s most popularized business women, Daria Zhukova and Polina Deripaska, known for their art galleries and media house respectively were both “heavily associated” with two of Russia’s richest men when they launched their ventures. And the groundbreaking President of the Inteko Construction Group, Yelena Baturina was once married to Moscow’s former mayor and third richest man Yury Luzhkov. The perceived notoriety of such relationships is seen by many as an example of how Russian women really climb social ladders and acts as a barrier to young women looking to succeed in business on their own.

Today in Moscow, women are on average better educated than men. But despite this, they hold only 15% of management positions within the city. This is typical of Russia’s problem of limited regional success in the involvement of women in top tier positions. In the city of Belgorod for instance, women command a 65% share of all top management offices. Statistics like these are sometimes used to show Russia’s progress and avert attention from more encompassing statistics.

PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Russian Association of Managers reported that a whopping 91% of chief accountant positions were held by women but conversely women only occupied 6% of company president seats. The study blamed a large portion of this figure on Russian women themselves not reaching for the top. Panfilova, of Transparency International says candidly that “Sometimes women just prefer to keep a lower profile. We shouldn’t forget that most women are also mothers and simply don’t have the time to promote themselves. The time that men have to spend on self-promotion and PR, women spend cooking dinner.” What this reflects is not only the predominance of traditional gender roles in Russia but also the widespread acceptance of these roles as an excuse for the lack of women in business leadership positions.

But the Russian leadership disparity between genders is improving. In the first months of 2010 there were more women chosen for top level positions than left them. This could represent a shift in the philosophy of Russian’s big-wigs. And the PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Russian Association of Managers survey also reported that most people felt that pay and conditions were the same for men and women, with only 18 per cent saying their company paid women less than men in similar positions.

By Ben Rozon