Now that International Women’s Day (March 8) has come around again this year, it is a good time to take stock of just one aspect: professional women. As I am based in Russia, it makes sense to do this in a Russia-specific context.
Over the years I have heard it repeated back in the States that women in Russia, while undoubtedly unique and beautiful, are kept “barefoot, dumb, pregnant, and in the kitchen”. So much for myths and stereotypes, they sound like Russia-gate – repeat it often enough and some dullard might succumb and believe it.
Inconvenient facts get in the way. Back in 2016, a US-based American audit firm, Grant Thornton, published their global findings on women in business, and in the two years since then the lead has only widened in Russia’s favor. According to the report, women hold 45% of senior management positions in Russia. This compared to the US and UK, where the percentage of senior positions held by women stands at 23% and 21%, respectively.
This, in spite of more than 154 key active women’s empowerment groups working in the United States that are considered sustainable. In comparison, there are a handful in Russia and they are mostly concerned with lobbying for social and family relationship rights and norms. In a variety of areas such as business, engineering, IT, literature, science, aerospace, arts and sport, Russian women have and are making significant achievements and have achieved worldwide respect without undue show, drama, clashes or noise.
A number of studies worldwide often confirm that girls’ early interest in subjects involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) tends to peter out at around the age of 15 years. This may be due to cultural markers, gender stereotypes, role models, peer pressure or insufficient support from parents and teachers. Who can really say when dealing with human and cultural influencers as they mutate constantly, more so in our digital age.
One thing is certain however, it is not exceptional or rare for girls to be interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Russia. UNESCO found that only 29% of people in scientific research worldwide are women, compared with 41% in Russia. In the UK for instance, approximately 4% of inventors are women, where in Russia it is 15%. Perhaps this gender neutrality in STEM is one legacy from Soviet times, which remains part of the societal culture today.
When polling Russian girls many mentioned strong parental encouragement and female role models as being key, as well as the majority of female teachers that run curricula that is viewed as being gender neutral. Many have commented that when compared to the US or Europe in general they don’t feel the need to stress “women’s issues”, but would rather simply get on with doing what they are strong at, since that is the true measure of competitive merited competency and the road to any society’s success strata.
Paul Goncharoff is an American business executive working in Russia.