A Culture of Leadership
Getting to the C-suite has never been an easy journey for women. While there are signs this is changing, there is still a high proportion of large companies globally that have too few females in senior leadership roles, let alone any at board level. So why has change been so slow in coming and can any lessons be learned from how different countries approach the issue? How, for example, does culture play a role and what’s behind the success of countries that have improved female representation at senior level?
As someone who heads up the Russian office of Mazars, Florence Pinot, has first hand experience of what it’s like to be a female leader in a predominately male business sector. Having been appointed Managing Partner of Mazars Russia in June 2013, Pinot leads a firm of 200 professionals in three offices – Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) – and four service lines: Audit, Outsourcing, Financial Advisory and Tax & Legal.
What’s noticeable in Russia, according to Pinot, is that there is already a high number of females occupying senior level management positions. She puts this partly down to cultural differences, where in the past Russian women were expected to play an equal role in society and work alongside men.
“A benefit of this ideology means there’s nothing unusual about women occupying professional positions in Russia,” explains Pinot.
Unlike western Europe, raising a family in Russia has never been seen as a barrier to holding down a professional career. To some extent this is helped by the fact that there continues to be a culture of family support.
Pinot explains that this is often due to the fact that it’s not unusual for generations of Russian families to still live together. This intergenerational lifestyle means grandparents are on hand to support women returning to work after having their children, although the indications are that this is becoming less common.
Education is another difference. According to recent OECD figures, Russia has the largest percentage of people attaining a tertiary education: 53%, compared with 32% on average among OECD countries and 26% among G20 countries, which certainly helps improve the pipeline of female talent. While Pinot’s own path to the top stems from a love of different cultures and new experiences, a Science Engineering degree has helped her career progression at Mazars where she has held senior roles in France and the Czech Republic before becoming Managing Partner of Mazars Russia.
This aspect of gender diversity is mirrored to some extent in the make up of the Mazars Russian office where, compared with other countries, there is a much better balance between men and women occupying senior roles. What is evident to Pinot is the tangible benefits such gender diversity brings to business.
“It’s important to give people the space to develop their own ideas and give them the support and responsibility to do so. I think this is an important part of business and women are really good at doing that,” she says.
Pinot explains that achieving a better balance between the number of males and females in senior roles also creates a more a much more inclusive atmosphere at management level.
“We listen more to each other. Through working together we have gained a better understanding of how we can each use our particular approaches and strengths to tackle different business situations more effectively. Without such a good male/female balance, this would be more difficult to achieve.”
Notwithstanding the success of women in business so far in Russia, Pinot believes more needs to be done to encourage women to aim for the very top echelons of leadership.
“Despite the high number of women in management positions in Russia relative to other countries, the highest ranking roles in large companies are still the preserve of males,” she notes.
To encourage more women at the very top, Pinot believes that more attention to the changing needs of Russian women in business has to be taken into account. After having her own children, Pinot had the support of Mazars in terms of managing her work/life balance, although recognises that this is still not the norm in Russia. Yet as a new, independent generation of women look for more flexible working arrangements when raising a family, rather than relying on the support of parents, she believes that companies will have to listen and react accordingly.
A further factor in encouraging more women in Russia and indeed other countries to make the leap from senior management up to board level will be to have more female leaders who can act as role models. In this respect Pinot’s own journey to the top-level is one that certainly inspires, as do the stories of other female Managing Partners at Mazars who have taken on challenging roles in the Americas, Asia and the Middle East. It’s only by leveraging such positive experiences of female leaders that companies can develop the concept of business. For good.
Florence Pinot. Managing Partner. Mazars in Russia.
Further reading on this topic: Promoting Women in Business