I was in Moscow last month to conduct two focus groups. I’m just completing a research project on women in science, engineering and technology and am reaching out for some global perspective. How are Russian women doing?
Well, for starters, there are lots of them – and they are extremely impressive. In many scientific and engineering fields women comprise 50% to 60% of the graduating class. This large pool of highly credentialed women is due to the ideology and educational policies of the Communist era. Equal opportunity prevailed in the Soviet Union and women were particularly encouraged to enter fields, which, under capitalism, had been off limits to females – heavy industry, petro chemicals, civil engineering and the like.
Second, these women are hard-working, hungry, raring to go (90% of focus group participants saw themselves as very ambitious) and plan on having full-on, full-bore careers. No hand-wringing about work-life balance in these focus group gatherings. Russian women expect to work full time all their lives and are not planning to take any time out. They seem to be minimally burdened by children. Among 17 focus group participants (average age 38), eight had no children, eight had one child and only one had two children. Reduced time and flextime are not on their radar screens. Their mothers and their grandmothers worked full time all their lives and this is what they expect for themselves. As one 38-year-old mechanical engineer put it, “I don’t know what [staying home] looks like.”
One big takeaway: US global companies have first pick and a huge opportunity.
Russian women, it turns out, prefer to work for multi-national companies – they see Russian-owned companies as misogynistic, tight-fisted and reluctant to invest in good people-development practices. Within the universe of global companies, US firms are preferred – they earn high marks on the nurturing talent front and are seen as woman-friendly. Japanese-owned companies are singled out for criticism (low wages, disrespectful of women) as are French-owned companies (arrogant, and again, disrespectful of women)
Focus group participants pointed to another “lure” of US-based global companies: they have much higher ethical standards (less corrupt, fewer bribes) and much higher safety standards. One woman pointed out that in the mining industry the number of on-the-job injuries (and deaths) are ten times higher in Russian-owned companies than US-owned companies. Which is why she went to work for an American firm.
Do you work for an American firm? If so, does your global talent strategy include recruitment of Russian female execs?
Read all of Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Winning the Talent War posts
HARVARD BUSINESS ONLINE RECOMMENDS:
Required Reading for Executive Women–and the Companies Who Need Them (HBR Article Collection)
Women in Business Collection: Insights for Executive Women and Their Organizations
America’s Looming Creativity Crisis (HBR Article)