In Russia, women form the backbone of lower-tier management in any major company. Source: Getty Images / Fotobank
After graduating from university, Elena Kuznetsova spent seven months looking for a job as a wood restorer. "My profession sounds impressive, but in reality it involves elements of carpentry," Elena says. "All the job interviews I got invited for were conducted by men, and they thought I would not be able to cope [with the demands of the carpentry world]."
Eventually she landed an interview with a well-travelled company boss with a seemingly open mind, who told her how he had met an outstanding female carpenter in Italy. "I was excited to have finally come across a company head not driven by stereotypes," she recalls.
Soon, however, her joy gave way to disappointment. Despite high workloads and an obvious learning curve, Elena could not move up a single rung of the career ladder. In her four years with the company, she missed three promotion opportunities: each time the freshly vacated position as department head would be taken by a male colleague. It would transpire later that she had been paid less than the men all along.
"I started asking myself: are there any female senior managers in our company at all? There turned out to be two: an accountant and a secretary, in charge of an army of female assistants. All the other key positions were occupied by men. This bothered me for a long time, and I started thinking of finding another job."
Instead, Elena left to complete another university degree in order to improve her chances in the job market.
Women form the backbone of lower-tier management in any major Russian company. They perform operational functions, but almost all the senior posts are taken by men. The imbalance in favor of the outdatedly named “stronger sex” in the workplace is a legacy of the past.
Alexander Tarasov, director of Phoenix Center of New Sociology explains: "Previously, women could only compete against one another, and mostly for the attention of men. But even in that situation the most ambitious ones still managed to make a career by proxy: you could either marry a high-status man or help your husband build his career from scratch.
All their acquaintances knew who was actually in charge, though the husband was officially given credit for his career achievements."
Women might receive the opportunity to launch careers of their own, but they usually have to work twice as hard to compete against men for managerial positions. "I try to hire men whenever possible because they are easier to work with," says Vladimir Petrov, director at the advertising firm Vector.
"Men are less prone to emotions; you can dispatch them on assignments 24/7 without feeling sorry for tearing them away from their family. Men don't take maternity leave at the most inopportune moment. But it so happens that the advertising business attracts mostly women. If I have two young girls lined up for an interview, and one of them is prettier than the other, I will always hire the latter so she will not distract the rest of the team from their work."
Few women rise to high positions in Russia. For example, 97 percent of the country's ministerial jobs are taken by men, as are the 90 percent of parliament seats; heads of corporations and university department chairs are also usually male.
The only exceptions are to be found in those professions for which senior posts are mostly contested by women. The highest proportion of female top managers (25 percent) is registered in the services sector and finance.
Some professions in Russia are traditionally regarded as jobs for women, such as cashiers, office managers, HR and PR managers, accountants and personal assistants.
Women have one weakness that makes their career ambitions more difficult to realize: in nearly all cases they have to choose between family and career. Giving birth and raising children are traditionally seen as occupations requiring time and effort, and even today most women will choose family over work.
"If you have not managed to secure a managerial post before your child's birth you will find it much harder to do it later," says Alexey Polevoy, professor at Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis.
"Managerial roles exhaust people, changing them psychologically so much that their families no longer recognize them. Business women are typically divorced, and keep their children on a short leash. They have much greater problems finding a partner than ordinary women because their intellectual and emotional demands from men are different. An ordinary man does not match a business woman's status and view of the world. Still, business women also want a happy personal life," he says.
Besides, not every husband will sincerely support a wife that is investing her time and attention on work. Russian men are often far from prepared to accept the possibility that women may take the dominant role in the family. Moreover, Russian traditions are family-centric. This is why, despite their career ambitions, women often avail of their entire three-year maternity leave.
Russian feminism is developed enough for a woman to make a career, but the country remains largely patriarchal. "A woman cannot command men" is the usual grudge you will hear if you ask a business lady's male subordinates.
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