'The stereotyping of women in business world will not change soon'

Women and business: myths and stereotypes

'The stereotyping of women in business world will not change soon'
Photo: courtesy of Yelena Sokolskaya

The man runs a business, the woman cooks soup and raises children. At the very least, the woman can do charity work, at the very worst — sell flowers or open a beauty salon. This set of stereotypes is still strong in society, no matter how modern and progressive it may be. Yelena Sokolskaya, a businesswoman from Kazan, the founder of the studio Novaya Idea, reflects on this in the author's column for Realnoe Vremya.

“As girls get older, their success is devalued”

Here's the paradox: gender plays almost no role in entrepreneurship. Here, the qualities that are inherent in both men and women are important: responsibility, curiosity, ambition, independence, courage and determination, fearless of mistakes, flexibility and strength. Everyone can continue this list based on their experience of running a business or interacting with its representatives. You must agree, in these qualities, there are no purely male or purely female qualities. But at the same time, there are inexcusably few women in businesses.

According to some sources, only a third of Russian entrepreneurs are women (Index of Woman Entrepreneurs). The same research shows that our country ranks the 47th in the world in terms of business conditions for women. Here's the comment on this indicator that makes you think:

“The top five by this indicator are Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Denmark and Sweden. The limitations are more likely to be the lack of ability, energy and managerial competencies of specific women, rather than the specifics of the regulation of small businesses in the country.”

Personally, I find it strange and surprising how easily the conclusion is made about the insolvency or lack of education of Russian women-entrepreneurs. What happens to all those girls who finish school perfectly and show brilliant success in universities? Where do their “energy and abilities” go, according to the above comment? At what point does everything suddenly turn upside down, and purposeful excellent students suddenly turn into insufficiently capable and incompetent women?

Photo: Maksim Platonov
What happens to all those girls who finish school perfectly and show brilliant success in universities? Where do their “energy and abilities” go, according to the above comment?

In my opinion, the point is that as girls grow up, their business or intellectual success is easily devalued by society. And, by the way, here lies another paradox. What restricts women in business growth is what stimulates them in it.

“First you are a woman and a mother, and then everything else”

After all, most women become entrepreneurs primarily to increase their income. They do not spend their energy on restoring pay equity when employed, but go freelance, which gives many of them financial stability.

And here's the reason. Women when employed more often than men face rudeness, devaluation of their abilities and professional results. The most common stereotype is a skeptical attitude to investing in the development of women's careers.

Personally, I had a similar experience when looking for a job after university. At the interviews, the most common question was: “Are you married, do you have children?" These questions were asked in the first place, long before I was given the opportunity to demonstrate my skills and abilities. A couple of times I was even asked to my face: “What is the point of taking a young woman-specialist?" Like I have one goal — to get married and go on maternity leave.

The woman is subject to requirements dictated by socio-cultural conditions: first you're a woman and a mother, and then everything else. By the way, at the time of the birth of children, I already had my own branding and design studio, and their appearance did not affect my involvement in the work in any way. Both times I returned to work immediately after being discharged from the hospital. It was my personal choice, not the pressure of circumstances.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
The woman is subject to requirements dictated by socio-cultural conditions: first you're a woman and a mother, and then everything else

“There are no male and female industries”

Gender inequality also exists in the perception of women themselves. And it's not surprising. Because both literature and socio-economic traditions form a clear perception: business is the territory of men. The stereotype of a man-earner and a woman-keeper of the hearth has not gone away, and it is unlikely that this will change quickly. A woman still has a very limited set of role models to follow. After all, the vast majority of successful businessmen who are admired by the world are men. But, in my opinion, this is not a reason to refuse to try your hand at entrepreneurship.

Any woman can be faced with the choice: business self-realisation or motherhood. But there are also transitional forms between these poles. In my opinion, choosing the path of entrepreneurship, you can find for yourself the business that will gives the opportunity to harmoniously combine both earnings and family care.

And one more aspect: only a narrow range of specialties are positioned as women's. Conventionally, it is “decent” for the woman to engage in floristry, beauty industry, to teach, at the very least to sell (preferably clothing, and better — underwear). Accounting is also suitable. And if a woman does not keen on these things, then it is not immediately clear to her in what area she can do something.

My advice: don't get caught up in traditional “women's” businesses if you don't like them. Be inspired by the success stories of women in areas of interest to you. For example, if you like analytics, you can succeed in this field by creating your own company, so that men do not issue exclusive rights to it. It is worth remembering that there are no male or female specialties or industries. There is only the fear of trying yourself in a new capacity, and the scope of application of your abilities can be any. This can be IT sector, the development of computer games, chemical industry, finance and investment... For me personally, the example of Katerina Lengold, who at the age of 23 became the company's vice president in the aerospace industry, is very eloquent.

Photo: Vasily Ivanov
Conventionally, it is “decent” for the woman to engage in floristry, beauty industry, to teach, at the very least to sell

“The environment will change only if we change ourselves in it”

And here gender differences can play into hands. The woman is more social and empathic, and emotional support is important to her. And if the environment does not provide this support, then you should go and look for a “pack of like-minded people” for these purposes. In the modern world, there are many ways to find your social “pack”, emotional and professional support. There are many organisations where businesswomen can get it. I have no personal experience of interaction with large state organisations supporting women entrepreneurs. Personally, I am satisfied with the interaction in groups that are formed around various programmes of personal growth or highly specialised training. Tellingly, the majority of participants in such programmes are women. In a supportive environment, it is much easier to understand what skills you can monetise, what industries arouse your keen interest and desire to master new experiences.

It is sad, but the stereotypical perception of women in the business world is there and it will not disappear quickly. The environment will change only if we change ourselves in it. Perhaps, it is in business that it is easiest to learn to defend your boundaries — and this brings immediate dividends. But do not consider entrepreneurship as a battlefield.

Business is a great opportunity to change your own life, bringing benefits to other people. Invest in your own development and training, even if you do not consider entrepreneurship in the near term of your development. The world is changing rapidly. Use your natural flexibility to gain new experiences. Follow your interests, especially if they change, look for like-minded people, and learn from them. Already today, we are told from almost all over the news that the times have passed when it was possible to master one specialty and improve in it.

We think about professional prospects for our children, but we should not forget about our own prospects. In the end, only we can change the attitude of the business community towards us by taking small steps every day or making rapid breakthroughs to success.

By Yelena Sokolskaya