Equality is when a person is assessed not by gender, but by skills, experience, ambitions – Alla Savchenko, President of BDO Ukraine
What traits distinguish successful executives and how do female CEOs influence the financial performance of companies? The European Business Association in partnership with the Council of Women’s Initiatives and NGO “Modern Woman” conducted the study on the impact of the care policy on business efficiency and welfare of women in a team to find answers to these questions. For the study, we have interviewed women who run Ukraine’s most successful companies with the EBA community. The next interview in this series is with Alla Savchenko, President of BDO Ukraine.
We are a large global company in the field of accounting, auditing, and consulting. For 5 years we have been preparing integrated reports, where we declare our values publicly. Inclusion and equality have always been a priority of BDO worldwide.
Historically, such specializations as accounting, auditing, taxes have always been known for the dominance of women. At present, our company’s management consists mainly of women: these are the executive director, the marketing manager, the main owner, the financial director. Our managing partner is a man, but the deputy is a woman. I think that in our industry, in principle, most of the managing partners are men. Here we can even raise the issue of equality of men. We try to take this into account when hiring a new employee, but above all, we assess the level of qualifications, the experience of the candidate, regardless of gender, nationality, or religion.
For women who have just returned from maternity leave, we offer a part-time schedule or work from home. For this, we develop a methodology to control the quality of work so that a woman can work without being separated from the family. This is especially relevant in modern Kyiv, which, in my opinion, is not a very comfortable city to move around. Remote work saves up to four hours a day, which is better used for something useful.
By the way, in many countries around the world there are even special competitions to determine the best employers for women, for women with children, and so on. I would like to see something similar in Ukraine.
I have never experienced harassment or discrimination at work or in pay. Although I do not rule out the existence of such situations. Perhaps in my case, it is due to the field in which I work. In my opinion, for women who want a career and have ambitions, all the doors are opened. Limitations exist solely within us. If it is enough for a woman to sit at home and raise children – this is her choice, and only. Among other countries of the CIS or the USSR influence, Ukraine was the most democratic one, and women here always had more opportunities. Therefore, for us, the gender issue is more about a woman’s choice.
Why do you think the managing partners are men and their deputies are women? What could this be related to?
Interestingly, in foreign companies, men are appointed for the positions of managing partners. There are both men and women in Ukrainian companies of our sector. So, who really has problems with diversity and equality? Apparently, they believe that a man is better suited for this nervous work. There is no such thing in the Ukrainian mentality. It is absolutely normal for our industry to see a woman as a leader, an owner.
Why is finance, including accounting, considered to be a women′s field in Ukraine?
In other countries, mostly men dominate the field of audit and taxes because it is very difficult to enroll in relevant studies and take exams. In our country, accounting is also considered a complex job that requires discipline, accuracy, but at the same time, it is low-paid, in contrast to what is abroad. Therefore, there are fewer men in the profession. And we have what we have.
Frequent business trips can be another challenge for auditors. When hiring, we always inform that the job involves frequent trips that the candidate’s family needs to be prepared for. Many candidates do not agree on this condition. And this is not about discrimination, but rather about the role of women in the family, which we, as employers, have no right to change. So, we go back to the previous idea about the choice a woman makes.
We should also mention the gender roles that society imposes on us. A man is traditionally considered a breadwinner to provide for his family, whether he wants to or not. Women, on the other hand, are more associated with housekeeping and have responsibilities – caring for children, parents, etc. These roles do not change so quickly but they affect professional activities instantly. For example, in order for a woman to go on a business trip, someone has to sit with the children. In Ukraine, at present, the legislation does not provide for childcare leave for men. Although abroad it is quite normal.
What does gender equality in business mean to you?
Equality is the evaluation of a person as a specialist and a professional not by gender, but by skills, experience, ambitions. Thus, there are certain requirements for each position. Candidates should be evaluated according to their suitability for the position, taking into account compliance with these requirements. So, this is equality.
I think most companies do this because keeping unskilled workers is expensive and can sometimes even lead to bankruptcy.
Besides, management positions involve the creation of a team of line employees. And here women very often have an advantage as they are known for having better communication skills and empathy. And this emotional intelligence is very important, especially now. All these soft skills are highly valued.
Equality is about the availability of opportunities. The question is centered on who uses these opportunities and how. Modern youth have the freedom and choice enjoyed by both women and men.
Do you see any barriers that prevent women from taking top positions in business?
Probably in the public sector, where it is easier for men to work with each other, especially if they belong to the old establishment. At present, women are almost not represented in the management of socially significant state-owned enterprises. The situation is different in the private sector – many women are owners and founders of companies.
I have participated in the Woman of the Year competitions many times and even won twice. I can say that in business there are many women – owners, managers who achieve what they want. But the obstacles I talked about still hold back women’s leadership. These include legislation and family responsibilities. But if there are ambitions, then nothing can stop a person. For example, my niece wanted to work in a rather narrow field – environmental auditing. She graduated from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, then did an internship in Sweden, and now works in Poland in the relevant position.
On the other hand, not all men and women want to become entrepreneurs, owners, and bureaucrats. It is not so easy to be a leader, especially an owner, and not everyone is ready to withstand this pressure. Improperly defined goals lead to inflated expectations and then disappointments. Everyone should do what he likes and what works best. And it is impossible to stop the innate leader. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a boy.
My mother told me that as a child I was not interested in games that I could not control. Sometimes it was difficult to work in a team when there were many leaders, and everyone was competing with each other. I did realize this and always wanted to work on my own or as a manager. When the opportunity arose, I started my own business. Also, I have a very good background – economic cybernetics and mathematics school in Dneprodzerzhinsk. After graduation, I worked as a programmer. Even then, I knew I was interested in computers and math. But at the same time, I have to be the leading one.
What features distinguish leaders from others?
None. There are no such features. In my opinion, this is a slightly far-fetched issue, especially for Ukraine. We have another problem that for some reason is not talked about – the infantility of men. Perhaps this is a consequence of the historical legacy, when men went to war and women stayed at home and had to deal with all challenges. That is, historically, women have always had a responsibility.
What is leadership in business? It is charisma, idea, and responsibility. At the same time, charisma and the idea do not work without responsibility. It is necessary to clearly understand where we are leading our people to. Is it providing decent pay, helping meet expectations, solving problems, and so on? And many people are not ready for this, both women and men. I don’t see a difference.
Does the presence of women in business management affect financial performance and how exactly?
The answer is rather yes. Crises have shown that women are more cautious, more responsible, and better able to manage crisis communications. Again, there are women who do not feel this, but, as a rule, due to the fact that they give birth to children, they have already the responsibility in regard to the family and, if necessary, to the company. Therefore, due to our profession, many women understand finances better. Both family and business.
I remember that after the fall of the USSR, many people lost their jobs. And accounting has become a kind of quiet haven for women of various specialties who needed a stable income. And even now, if you study well, pass difficult international exams, and learn the language, this is the prospect of becoming a world’s citizen. Our company has the opportunity for internships or work abroad. With international certificates ACCA, CIMA, English, and experience in this field – you are welcome to the big world! Therefore, finance is a difficult but stable realm.
Does your company have approved policies for equality or diversity and inclusiveness, and which groups of people do you think need protection?
As an international company, we definitely have these policies.
As for the second question, many categories in Ukraine need protection. We also had ATO soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, and we were very supportive of these people. One of them even opened his own business. We also employ people with disabilities. We send less of them on business trips and create all the necessary conditions. By the way, I do not think that women who belong to vulnerable categories in the labor market should be protected, but rather should be helped to gain a decent education and practical experience. I would now like to draw attention to the problems of people related to the war, to serious diseases for the treatment of which there is no state aid, and so on.
Thus, mental health has recently gained special attention from us. We regularly hold lectures, yoga classes, meditations.