Women making workplace progress, but stereotypes still thwart careers
March 11 at 21:44 | Kateryna Grushenko
As the International Women’s Day was celebrated all over Ukraine on March 8, the toasts to women’s beauty and intellect may have missed the mark. Today, the country’s female population needs jobs and equal opportunities more than champagne, boxes of chocolates and patronizing treatment.
Having originated in the 1930s as an international "day of rebellion of the working women against kitchen slavery,” in modern-day Ukraine many working women still have little to celebrate.
Three decades ago, 90 percent of females held jobs and pursued higher education. Of course, that was during the Soviet Union, which utterly failed as an economy to the point of collapse in 1991.
Currently, an estimated 53 percent of women of working age are officially employed. Only two percent of big business owners are females, while top managerial ranks have only 15 percent women. Working women still earn on average 30 percent less than male counterparts, despite holding most of the nation’s university degrees, according to a new study by the Equal Opportunities and Women’s Rights Program by the European Commission and United Nations Development Program.
Yan Vilyukha, director for United Consultants recruiting company, says the figures are logical. "In the U.S.S.R., women had no choice but to work, otherwise they would have been condemned by the society. Now many beautiful women have a choice – to go work for Hr 5,000 or marry a successful businessman, stay at home, go to gym and keep themselves in a great shape.”
Researchers say that these sorts of "harmful stereotypes” are keeping women in secondary roles, earning less and being more dependent on men.
"But such statements create harmful stereotypes in the society, they force many girls into the role of Barbie-women instead of directing their talents in many other domains. It also contributes to the perception of a woman as a commodity,” said Tamara Martsenuk, researcher on gender issues at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
Women are represented in the majority of the public sector, taking over 75 percent of the available posts. Their representation, however, drops dramatically in the higher echelons; there are only 8 percent of female parliament deputies in Ukraine. Even ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Cabinet had just two females among 20 cabinet members.
As many American and European companies enter the Ukrainian market, recruitment becomes less gender-biased and more skills-oriented. Researchers said separation into female and male will remain in some industries, but will be more historical than gender discriminative.
Marketing, for example, tends to draw more female talent and has a bigger pool of qualified women. The story goes back to the mid-1990s when "aggressive "boys” were employed on the sales posts that brought in higher incomes and bonuses while "tender girls” had low-income and passive marketing positions. But now that marketing is gaining more and more weight, females in marketing are enjoying better careers.
The human resources industry is also considered one of the domains dominated by women, probably, because the majority of employees in the domain are graduates in the humanities that traditionally have more female students. Antonina Ermolenko, project team leader at BrainSource International, says women are good at empathizing with others and understanding how to build relationships.
Finance industry is shared almost equally by men and women, while general management, sales and information technologies are still heavily dominated by men.
Stanislav Vilyukha, managing partner of Exon, says gender discrimination is becoming less prevalent. He said employers are only likely to discriminate against a childless woman in her 30s who just got married, fearing that she would take maternity leave soon.
While employers’ discrimination may not be the biggest threat for Ukrainian women, traditional social stereotypes hold them back. There are only a quarter of working women who are willing to climb the career ladder, according to a research by the Institute of Sociology. Juggling career and child care remains the biggest obstacle: women continue to be responsible for child-rearing, and few Ukrainian men are prepared to reverse the tendency.
But, on the upside, the more women start to earn, the more eager they are to build their careers. Also, there are many women around who find a happy balance.
"My family needs a happy and self-sufficient wife and mother. My interesting job helps me to be that,” said Areta Beliakova, director for DOOR training and consulting company. "I don’t use the tough word "career." I say "self-development," because that’s what it is. I’m ready to be a housewife – I stayed at home when we decided to have a baby and I was happy. The proper management of family and work creates a perfect balance.”
Women successful in business say that the management skills that they acquire at work help them in their family life, too.
"I think it’s important to combine family and business. With the right planning one would contribute to the success of the other,” said Anna Chesnokova, a medium-sized business owner.
Kyiv Post staff writer Kateryna Grushenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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