Russian culture embraces gender inequality and expects all members of society to follow well defined, for the most part unwritten, gender roles. Those roles have profound effect on everyday life and business. In this article I will explain how gender roles affect women in business.
It all starts with hiring. Despite the law, there is a very strong belief that some jobs are more suitable for men than women and vise versa. It also can be a personal idea of company management to have employee of a specific gender in a certain position. As a result of these mindsets, almost all job ads specify prospective candidate’s gender. Resumes from candidates of a different gender would be rejected.
When hiring, women are not considered just professionals. This does not happen very often, but it’s a notable trend in many Russian businesses. Many businesses consider women as sort of a beautiful object, making office attractive for employees and visitors. This is why when hiring for public positions, female candidate looks is always in consideration. Not very often, but often enough, women in some business positions are expected to provide extra services of a sexual nature. Again, not very common, but this is a brutal truth that it happens. When company advertises job opening like a secretary or personal assistant, half of the resumes come with a photograph attached. Those photographs have female candidates, some just nice looking, some in sexually provocative poses, some semi-naked. Candidates know, their appearance will be in consideration, so they demonstrate their assets upfront as a competitive advantage.
In Russia, to be successful in a corporate career, being professional is not enough. There are many factors in play and gender is one of them. In a typical Russian company most managerial positions are taken by men. The belief is that men have qualities to rule, while women are much less capable of management and leadership. Culturally, there is strong connection to family concept in Russia, which translates into business. Women are supposed to be good housewives, mothers and raise children. Running business is a men’s job. Women officially called “weak gender” in Russia. (Real life often proves it quite contrary, but nonetheless this notion of “weak” is still there). Getting promotions can be very difficult for women in a typical Russian company. When a woman receives good position or some benefits, the question everyone quietly asks is — “Who she slept with?”.
To build career, especially in management, she has to exhibit male qualities, male attitudes, behaviors and abilities to rule men. Being on a par with men in terms of behavior, being strong and assertive (to a degree of being aggressive at times) is an essential prerequisite for a woman for getting any managerial position in Russian business. It’s a hard job, to remain feminine as culture demands, at the same time being butch.
Another thing is that many (if not majority) of woman willingly accept and follow this stereotyped role of women as mother and household keeper, and rarely put any effort in career development. Many woman see their jobs as temporary before “successful” marriage and maternity leave. For many, their job is just for having salary for family budget, if their spouse is not making enough money for a family to have a good living. Some woman take jobs for the sake of just spending time in a workplace. This group of employees usually have spouses financially supporting them and family, and she works just to socialize and make some pocket money.
One of the roles, imposed by society on women and again, voluntarily accepted by majority of female population is to be beautiful. Whatever your definition of beauty is, for women in Russia it has to do with dressing up, stylish, jewelry, high heels, makeup. This is unspoken, unwritten rule every woman has to follow to a certain extent. In most Russian offices, female employees look like they just came from the podium. Speaking of the unwritten, some Russian companies have dress codes where requirements for outfits, accessories, haircuts, makeup described in detail. Women not following this rule might be labelled as not being a “real woman”. As a result she will never be accepted in a workplace, in spite of her professional knowledge and expertise. Interestingly, this mindset is so strong, that Russian women moved to other countries where looks are totally unimportant, continue to follow this “beautiful Russian woman” role, putting on lots of makeup, wearing fashionable outfits and accessories.
Another society expectation is about behavior patterns toward women. It also affects daily interactions in business — big time. Women expect certain behavior and male population supposed to act up to that expectation. This type of behavior manifests in various forms. Being gallant and gentle with women, opening a door for them, letting them first in an elevator, making flirtatious compliments on her looks. Helping them with things that require physical power, like carrying heavy items for her, hanging that picture on the wall. And don’t you forget that March 8th — woman’s day or her birthday.
And since in Russian business environment gender differences emphasized and articulated in any way possible, relationships between employees often get intimate. In Russian offices romances are not uncommon. Those romances either go nowhere or end up as sexual relationships or marriages.
Above picture of how gender differences work for women is somewhat exaggerated, but with all the niceness and politeness stripped off this is the way it is.
Many of you, especially those coming from “western” countries, reading this article, may think something like: “This is disgusting, sexism, discrimination, harassment” and so on. Think again. What is not working in your culture, works quite nicely in Russia and other cultures, where gender differences are in its core.