“I feel very passionate about the power of sisterhood. I do think that women are not leveraging enough of the unbelievable power that they have…that we have when we’re together, and one of my personal passions is connecting women.”
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
Resilience. I believe that to be a power women you need a lot of resilience in this life.
With all of the different issues we could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Do you feel it should be an approach that’s very specific or are you..how are you kind of passionate about that space?
I’m very passionate about this. As I grew older, I think I lost a lot of my naivety and I realized how much more is required to be done. So, when I talk about this question, I talk about two different things: I’m very passionate about creating systems that create equality, and what I mean by that is that, in a company, the way you structure your composition, the way you structure your performance review, the way people are being promoted, rewarded, has a huge impact on general equality among your staff. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but to me, one of the big things (and I started that when I was still in Russia) is to really make sure that you have a system in the company, especially if you run one–systems that allow you to create a base, fertile for equality and a non-bias environment. So, that’s the first big piece. Then, the second big piece is more personal, more individual, but I feel very passionate about what I call the power of sisterhood. I do think that women are not leveraging enough of the unbelievable power that they have…that we have when we’re together and one of my personal passions is connecting woman. It’s mentoring and connecting women. I’m at a stage in my life where I have the luxury of being able to do that, so I mentor a lot of young women and I do it probably at least once a week, maybe once every other week depending on the time. I organize dinner or I connect women who don’t know each other, and that, to me, is a very, very important part of my life.
Do you believe that there is a gender specific role that women can play in climate change? Because we all know that women bring a very different perspective to any discussion that takes place. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m afraid my answer’s probably not going to be very politically correct, but I don’t think so. I think this it is not a gender specific issue. I think climate change is a universal issue. I think it’s been too often said asked, “What could woman do specifically?” as a way to almost put the burden on our shoulders, and I’m like no. Climate change is a freaking disaster for humanity. not just for women, for everyone–men, women, children, everyone. I think it’s a universal concern that we should all have, and women and men should both try and do as much as they can about it.
Should government take a harder stance on making things almost legal for companies and corporations? What are your thoughts on that and do you have an opinion on that?
Yeah, I do have an opinion. So, I think that yes, in general, that should be factored into the ten year plan. I think the way I interpreted the question is like it’s the private sector risking stability or government risking stability, and my opinion, again fairly strongly, is that it is unrealistic and naive to think that the private sector is going to tackle climate change on it’s own because it’s not in their own interest and the private sector is very clearly incentivized on return to shareholders and that’s actually not a bad thing. I think every stakeholder in our world has a different role to play and I don’t want the private sector to play the role of the government, and I don’t want the government to play the role of the private sector. So, in my view, the resting stability is on the shoulder of the government. The government needs to put in place the appropriate regulation, the appropriate control, the appropriate request so that companies actually put that into their plan, but we shouldn’t be expecting companies to do it without the government’s push because that’s not their job, that’s the job of the government, and we elect this government to implement the vision of society that we citizens want to see.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day who would that be and why?
It would be Kara Swisher, the tech journalist. She created a company called Recode decode. She’s the most famous journalist about tech nowadays. I should say she’s very direct, she’s very good at her job because she knows, inside out, the companies that she’s interviewing because she’s been following them for thirty years. She’s not afraid of anything, including asking really non-politically correct questions. She’s been doing this for a really long time. She connects the dots and she calls people on their BS when they just tell you with big words that they’re making the world a better place and they are objectively not. I think she’s funny and I her job is to go and interview Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and the latest startups. If I could have a job for one day it would be hers.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I actually don’t have an answer for this one. I’ve been scratching my head and I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t have an answer. I know it’s bad…if you had to ask me which historical figure do I most admire I would have been able to answer, but “which historical figure do you most identify with?” I think the problem is also that there are historical figures that I admire, but I don’t ever pretend to be as good as they are, so I don’t think I can identify.
In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think about the number one action that we can take in society that can help kind of be have a more affirmative action?
Actually, I have a slightly different answer on this one. I think it depends on whether you’re in a developing country or a developed country. I think in a developing country, the number one action a society should take is education. I think it’s been proven over and over and over again that when women get educated their household gets better, they have opportunities to work, they understand the financial system better–and by financial system I mean they understand better how to have a bank account. And literacy–basically making sure that every woman around the world in developing countries can actually read, count, and write is a critical, critical piece to create female power and equality. Now, in developed countries, like the U.S. or Europe, I think a very different action that is required. I think the action that is required is childcare, because what we see over and over again is that this highly educated woman, at some point, has to slow down, put their career into slow mode because they are, in most households, the primary caregiver. I’m totally fine with that and I understand that a lot of them want to be the primary caregiver, but when they do that, they have to give up their opportunity of having a career because there is no childcare system–it’s either too expensive or there just isn’t one. I think there are so many lost careers because women who are 25 to 35 years old have children, but they don’t have any childcare system to support them, so they drop out of the workforce.
Can you tell us a short story where you may have encountered a block in the workplace and how did you deal with it? Maybe you had to fight for your salary?
Not really because I was an entrepreneur, and when you’re an entrepreneur it is what it is. Being a woman entrepreneur is not easy, but it’s not the same thing. Then, I worked for a consulting company where the salaries are completely normed and there’s a very clear metric, a very clear benchmark, and depending on which level you are, you get X salary, a new promotion, or times. So, from that perspective, I learned from BCG, where I worked, that the power of creating and having a normed system is that it makes it impossible to have inequality and composition, and then that’s it–you don’t have to talk about it ever again and, obviously, it doesn’t apply to every company because you can’t and not every company can have a cookie cutter composition system, but it works. At BCG it worked fantastically well. I never, ever talked about the fact that being a woman was a disadvantage while I was at BCG. Having said that, the number of sexist comments and, of course, if you’re a woman and you’ve been working for a few years then you’ve had your fair share of stupid, sexist comments and projects that are being given to men because you know you have so much potential and you need to prove results…I’ve experienced it first-hand. For example, the number of times where you see men being
promoted on potential and women being promoted on results and you have to fight and say, “I have the potential, believe in me, trust me, give me a chance,” but that’s not the case with men. I’ve been from that perspective in environments that were not too prone to this kind of experience because I was either running my own company, or I was in an environment–like BCG–where it wasn’t extremely normal. And, when I worked at the Priceline Group we didn’t really have any of these problems, men and women were paid fairly equally and I never felt any issue with that.
New York state recently outlawed the question of asking for previous salary requirements in a job interview, but do you feel that this is something that should be pushed out as a nationwide ban? In your opinion?
So, I want to caveat that by saying I’m not American, so I feel very strongly that it is not my place tell Americans how to run their country…and I do not in any circumstances pretend that I know what’s good for America. I do think that, in general, yes, it actually helps not being able to ask. It’s a pain as an employer. I recruit hundreds of people every year and not being able to ask for salary is an issue because then you don’t have a baseline. In a world where women do not negotiate as well as men, mostly because they don’t know how to do it and because they are penalized for doing it–and, again, there is dozens of scientific studies that show that if a woman negotiates their salary, they’re gonna be considered as pushy, aggressive, and demanding–but, when a man does the exact same thing, he’s considered as knowing his value, being a winner, and doing the right thing. So, it is extremely difficult for women to negotiate for salary in our society. As a result of that, over time, the salary gap increases, partially because of that, but obviously it’s not the only reason. And, again, it’s not a pleasant measure for employers, but I do believe that it actually does help women. So, yes, I’m hugely supportive, but, again, I don’t think about it from an American perspective. I think, in general, for women it makes a lot of sense, yes.
Have you seen changes in the political landscape of women over the past few years and if so or what are they in your opinion?
Yeah, of course. I mean, in the U.S. there has never been more women in the Congress and the House of Representatives. But it’s still very low, and I wish everywhere around the world where there’s a democracy…had women represented. But, having said that, when you look at the U.S. political system today, again, in the Congress and the House of Representatives there’s never been more women, so I think that’s the progress. I don’t think it’s enough, but I think it’s huge progress.
Was there a defining moment and experience in your life that led you to where you are today and if so what is that?
I feel very lucky from my perspective in my journey. I would say one of the biggest ones is when I became CEO of a company called OZON in Russia and I was 30 something. I will have to check the date, but I was in my early thirties and I became CEO of the company that, under my leadership, became the largest e-commerce company in Russia. That changed everything. First, it made me realize that I actually like really running big companies; it made me realize that I wanted to be a Fortune 500 CEO; it made me realize that I had a lot of people around me that would support me. It also made me realize that I had a lot to learn and that no one succeeds alone, and I realized that in a really hard way because I made a lot of mistakes along the way and I was lucky enough to have a very supportive chairman and very supportive board. I learned what it is to run a business, and I have run businesses before because I have built three tiny companies before, but they were tiny–OZON was the first really big one that I was running and it was a huge, huge learning experience.