Gulnara Bikkulova, Deputy Director General of Rosatom Corporate Academy, shared her thoughts on gender balance
I will begin my story with something very distant from business, but familiar to everyone – with cookstoves. Do you know what environmental factor contributes to the increase in the global mortality and morbidity of women and children under the age of 5? The correct answer is air pollution from cooking on an open hearth indoors. The content of toxic substances in the smoke from hearths is 20-100 times higher than the maximum permissible rates established by the WHO. It takes longer to cook food to cook on such hearths, and women must stay around all the time, unable to switch to other work. The problem is so serious that in 2010 the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was created.
And do you know what the reason is that technical innovation is so slow to come to kitchens? It is about the lack of data on why the women themselves are unhappy with "eco-friendly cookstoves." When researchers did survey women in India, they found that small pieces of wood and wood chips were required for eco-friendly hearths, while traditional hearths could as well be fueled with larger logs. Here, preparing fuel for the hearth is traditionally a woman's responsibility in India. Chopping large logs is extremely hard, so women, not to do this, preferred to cook in the traditional way. After the research, a small metal device was developed that could be built into traditional stoves, and it provided the same airflow and combustion rate as the high-performance new stove.
There are differences
Companies are also often held hostage to similar lack of understanding. Do we keep track of how the same career development, training, motivation, and well-being maintenance programs work for women and men? We most probably don't. Meanwhile, numerous studies show that there are differences in how men and women reach their potential at work, and these are considerable.
In particular, women are often not confident in themselves, in their competencies and skills. They demonstrate a high level of self-confidence only 50% of the time, while for men this figure reaches 70%. Every other woman doubts her own effectiveness. Among men it only occurs in 31% of cases.
Women have a need to be valued and treated fairly, while men value the ability to be influential and successful. For example, Cochlear company noticed that many of its female employees who perform well at work never mentioned their desire to advance their careers. They encouraged these women to rethink their career goals to include objectives related to achieving leadership positions. The mere appearance of such a focus in activity changed the situation dramatically: 52% of women were promoted fairly quickly.
The importance of work in women's lives is not constant. Depending on age, marital status, presence of children and their age, the role and place of professional fulfillment in a woman's life may vary. A significant problem of recent years is the high level of burnout which is exacerbated by a hybrid work schedule. In 2021, for example, women were 23% more likely than men to say they felt burned out. At the same time, for 45% of respondents, the key factor that influenced their decision to quit was the lack of time for family, caused by the need to combine work and household duties.
Many professional fields are hostage to social stereotypes. Women are more likely than men to enroll in universities in the fields of education, healthcare, and social welfare, and less likely to enroll in engineering fields. In the non-profit sector, women account for 47%, in education 46%, while in the energy and manufacturing sectors these figures amount to just 20% and 19%, respectively.
Yes, they are different – so what?
Research shows that adhering to the principles of gender balance makes a company more cost-efficient, innovative, and adaptable. According to McKinsey, teams with gender balance outperform teams with a clear dominance of one gender group in financial terms by 15-25%. Companies characterized by high levels of empathy and cooperation in their culture are 3.6 times more likely to come up with innovative solutions, 6.6 times more likely to adapt to change, 8.4 times more likely to feel a sense of belonging to the team, and 12 times more effective at retaining and engaging employees.
Where to start?
Of course, it might be possible to collect a huge amount of data to justify any position in any dispute. However, each company is a unique combination of established traditions, processes, and employees with a different set of competencies, life experiences, and values. What works in one business may lead to unexpected results in another.
Based on these assumptions, in the end of 2022 Rosatom Corporate Academy launched a pilot educational program for female executives called [in]Visible Force. It will end in early April – and we will have an opportunity to draw our own conclusions about how to develop Rosatom's human resource environment to make it comfortable for women.