How Russian women succeed in business management

Women in Russia are believed to have a client-oriented approach to business.

Women in Russia are believed to have a client-oriented approach to business.

Leading businesswomen tell RBTH that the keys to success for female managers in Russia are being client-oriented, persistent and experienced.

When it comes to Russia’s economy, experts believe that women are mostly active in consumer-oriented sectors. “A lot depends on the sector in which the company operates,” says Ekaterina Rumyantseva, director of the Kalinka Group, a real estate company. She adds that heavy industry, minerals, construction and agriculture are more male-dominated fields, whereas beauty services, fashion and light industry are mostly suited to women. 

“There are sectors in the economy, for example real estate, finance, the media, trade, catering and others where men and women can equally succeed,” says Rumyantseva. For instance, managing a real estate business that deals with apartment sales on the secondary market is easier for women, while working with serious investors in the construction market is more of a male job.

A manager of a large public relations agency in Moscow who spoke on condition of anonymity said that PR in Russia is generally considered a woman’s field. Yet to work with large companies headed by former armed forces personnel, agencies hire male managers. “Once, we arrived at a meeting and the general director of a large company sat with his back to us the whole time because he did not want to negotiate with a woman,” she says.

There are exceptions, however, in the Russian market. “Electrical engineering is a rather conservative and male sector,” says Elena Semenova, general director of Phoenix Contact Rus. “But if you follow certain rules and understand how the sector functions, then it does not matter if the company is managed by a man or a woman,” Phoenix is the Russian branch of a German company that supplies automatic management systems to large oil and gas companies in Russia. 

The general director of Basic Element, which manages the assets of the billionaire Oleg Deripaska, is Gulzhan Moldazhanova, who was one of the 25 highest paid managers in Russia in 2015. According to Forbes, her overall income in 2015 is estimated to be $6 million, and she started with the company in 1995 as a secretary. She is the only woman on the list of the country’s highest paid managers. 

In its four-year history, the Forbes Russia rating has only had one other woman. In 2013, the general director of Nafta Moskva, Anna Kolonchina, earned $6 million. Her company manages the billionaire Suleiman Kerimov’s assets.

“Managing a business in Russia is not easy in general, regardless of the gender,” says Irina Dobrokhtova, chair of the Board at BEST-Novostroi, a large construction company. “Perhaps it’s more difficult for women since they always have to combine business and taking care of the family,” she says. “Fortunately, this can be done without either side losing out.”
Dobrokhtova says she is capable of balancing work and family life since her husband is also involved in the business.

“If someone is capable of managing, it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman,” says Oxana Vrazhnova, chair of the Board at MIEL, the largest network of real estate agencies in Russia. “Nevertheless, there are far fewer female managers, since women, in most cases, must also take care of equally important matters such as looking after the house and family.” 
Working mothers earn respect

All the women interviewed by RBTH compare business strategy with maternal instincts. “If business is perceived as your own child, then attention to the clients and the satisfaction of their demands will have the highest importance,” says Kalinka’s Rumyantseva. She is convinced that a woman’s approach to business is client-oriented from the start, as that is what makes the company stable. 

“Men do business more dynamically,” she says. “For them it is natural at every stage of their personal development to learn new ways to deepen and expand their influence on the market. Which is why today they have one target audience, tomorrow another and the day after, yet another.” 
Rumyantseva says that her company has successfully worked in the elite real estate market for 16 years, while peer companies established by men either closed down or changed their profiles, since their owners took an interest in politics or were absorbed by construction or banking businesses.

“There is strong competition in our business,” says BEST-Novostroi’s Dobrokhtova. “We try to win major tenders, and when I come to these tenders, I am usually surrounded by men.” She is certain that her solid experience helps her compete equally with men. As evidence of her success, Dobrokhtova has built 39 residential complexes in Moscow. 

Rumyantseva says when she first started working, businessmen avoided discussing serious issues with her, but with time that attitude has changed.

Vrazhnova says the respect that working mothers enjoy in Russia is an advantage when managing. “Very often it is women who find a common language with clients, since they can identify and understand the demand quicker than men, and they can also propose a more effective way of solving problems,” she explains. 

She adds that age is much more important than gender. “Even a very successful 25 to 30-year-old woman may not always evoke trust. It needs to be earned and deserved. But when the client finds out that I have three children, then some issues are left out or are resolved faster.”

Heavy industry, minerals, construction and agriculture are among the more male-dominated professions.

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