A financier by education, Iryna Tytarchuk has been an associate professor at her alma mater, the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine for almost two decades. During this time, she also became an independent consultant on financial management. She continues to pursue her academic as well as consulting work to date.
Over the years, she has added a bunch of activities to her resume including projects that support entrepreneurship, women’s leadership, public finance and the agricultural sector (including export). She also serves as the executive director of the Ukraine Investment & Trade Facilitation Center (ITFC). She is also engaged in scientific activity in the field of economy of agrarian sector. She talks to Women Icons Network about various aspects of gender differences at play in the modern-day workplaces.
Iryna believes that women are less likely to take advantage of opportunities due to deep-seated social biases ingrained in them. “Men are usually able to indulge in self-realization because they do not face too many obstacles, helping them to clearly formulate their goals and ambitions,” she feels. Meanwhile, women engage in unpaid household responsibilities that often leave them with little time to keep working on their skill sets and subject matter knowledge, she adds.
She points out the irony in fields like IT programming where 80% professionals are men though the first programmer in the world was Lady Ada Lovelace. Being the daughter of the famous poet George Gordon Byron, the mother of three children, a well-to-do baroness, these “statuses” did not prevent her from becoming interested in mathematics and working with the first analytical machine, she informs. Today, women are restricted to more conservative professions like education, she says, where they work at middle and lower positions; women in leadership positions can be counted on fingers.
Stereotypes like women are fragile, they should be mothers, focus on the household and on their appearance still abound all around us, she feels. On hearing these, she usually responds with quoting the reversibility test which she finds to be quite effective. As a frequent invitee to conferences, forums and other important events, she says that often panel presentations have only male participants. “We try to stop this during our events, and we also refuse to participate in such events organized by other stakeholders. Gender balance is very useful in presenting information,” she asserts.
Winds of Change
The situation is not all that bleak now as at the time Iryna entered the workforce. Back in 1998, there was only one woman in the Fortune 500 rating and now there are 38 women, she informs. She cites the State Statistics Service of Ukraine report which said that in the beginning of 2020, 28.9% of enterprises, institutions and organizations in the country had women leaders. She also gives the example of countries like New Zealand, Finland, Germany, Norway and Iceland where effective female leaders have emerged as proof that the winds of change are blowing.
Talking about how this was achieved in her home country, she speaks of her work with the ITFC. “By organizing entrepreneurship trainings, we convey the idea that a financially independent woman is more secure, less likely to be abused, and more confident in making important decisions,” she shares. More and more women expressed an interest in entrepreneurship in their workshops that led them to hold Women Biz Camp to help mentor participants and help them in scaling up their businesses.
Gender Parity at Workplace
According to Iryna, equal rights and opportunities for women and men in remuneration, in representing the company at various events, hearing every voice, awarding staffers based on merit are some ways in which companies can show their commitment towards gender parity at the workplace.
She believes that men play an important role in maintaining equality and justice in the team, giving the example of the HeForShe movement. However, what she observes around her is that men occupy important positions in the corporate world, with causes of women being mentioned during elections (due to the legally approved quota for women in parliaments) and on International Women’s Day.
She feels joint activities between companies, employees and colleagues involving management and supporting men in eradicating prejudices and stereotypes about women’s leadership could help in ensuring working women don’t get a raw deal. She also suggests developing strategic documents with indicators that contribute to gender equality to determine the direction of diversity & inclusion in the team.
Lessons from the Pandemic
When asked about how the pandemic affected businesses and working women in her country, Iryna tells us of an ITFC study that showed 92% of the women-led businesses have suffered a negative impact. “During the pandemic, 40% of women’s enterprises were forced to suspend their activities, 20% saw a decrease in turnover of services/goods, 13% stated about a decrease in customer solvency, and 12% mentioned about a decrease in customer base,” she informs.
There was a positive take-away from the study, too. It showed that currently more than 60% of the women surveyed believe that they have successfully adapted to quarantine restrictions, increased the customer base, increased profits, expanded the range, opened new branches and launched new activities.
Moving towards UN SDG5
Iryna feels that women empowerment, gender equality, diversity and inclusion may be buzzwords in conferences and industry events today. However, despite being a part of UN Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality (SDG5) is neither a reality nor known in most parts of the world. She also finds it a hefty goal to achieve by 2030.
“Ignorance, absence of initiative, leadership and motivation to act are the biggest cornerstones that slow down the movement of gender diversity,” she says. Moreover, women are so preoccupied with their worries that sometimes they do not have time for their development or initiative in the workplace, she thinks.
She also sees geography as an important factor in the equation. Though large organisations may voluntarily or involuntarily include such values as part of their organisational goals, it’s not the same for small and medium-sized businesses, she points out. She states that while such values would be important to people living in cosmopolitan environments, it’s not so for people living in small towns or villages, where stereotypes and prejudices are too ingrained and passed down from generation to generation. She says this is based on her own observations in many villages and small cities of Ukraine, where people have not heard about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.