LISBON, Portugal – When Jane Zavalishina, CEO of Russia’s Yandex Data Factory, started attending conferences on innovations in metallurgy, she realized she had an advantage due to being a woman.
“When you are in a room of 200 men in suits, and you are the only woman in jeans on stage, you can be sure you will be remembered,” Ms. Zavalishina told The Globe Post, laughing.
But after the conference, Ms. Zavalishina would make sure she delegated a man to deal with the negotiation. “Some people might not take me seriously,” she explains. “Even when they do, it would be challenging for them to talk to a woman because they are not used to it, they feel confused and it can create difficulties in negotiations.”
Ms. Zavalishina has experienced first hand the challenges facing women in technology and is one of Europe’s small number of women at the helm of top companies. Unfortunately, the pace of growth of women taking leadership roles remains slow.
The European Women’s Lobby (EWL), the European Union’s largest umbrella of women’s associations, said in a recent statement that it is “dismayed” by the very slow pace of gender equality in the E.U.
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, this year’s gender equality index is 66.2, an increase of just 4 points in the last decade. There has been most progress in the sphere of power, with women moving into leadership positions in political, economic and social spheres. But this area still has the lowest score of all domains.
Women continue to lag in leadership roles, with a report by S&P Global Market Intelligence showing that companies in the S&P Euro 350 have added one CEO a year, going from having six female CEOs to having 14. That means that only 5.2 percent of CEO positions at these S&P 500 companies are occupied by women.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” Joanna Maycock, Secretary-General of the European Women’s Lobby told The Globe Post. “There is lack of action by the E.U. member states and by the European Commission. We have no political strategy and woefully inadequate funding and infrastructure to advance gender equality at the E.U. level.”
While progress in corporate governance has happened thanks to legislative measures like gender quotas, the EWL says men continue to dominate the spheres of leadership at banks, finance ministries and top positions at the largest companies.
“Quotas are not the goal but an essential tool to shift a historical bias,” Ms. Maycock said. “We need to invest in infrastructure like child care and elderly care in order to shift the balance from women to the state, and to legislate for fairer distribution of care work between women and men.”
As pointed out in a report by the European Commission, progress toward economic dependence is not only calculated by the employment rate but also by the number of working hours. Working women still do the lion’s share of housework and care, spending around 22 hours per week on unpaid work while working men do less than 10 hours a week – though there are significant differences among countries.
For Ms. Zavalishina, who had a young child when she started at Yandex, having a child care program was vital. Despite Russia having a long way to go in terms of gender equality, she says its care system enabled her to be able to balance her work and family life.
“Sometimes I have discussions with European women colleagues about how to deal with inequality problems, and what I usually tell them is that when I look back and think of myself as a young woman starting a career, the best thing my government did for me was a comprehensive kindergarten network,” Ms. Zavalishina pointed out. “You don’t need quotas to attract women, you simply need to enable them to do their working life and not sacrifice their family life,” she added.