Women at Work

While women are taking an increasingly active role in economic life, they still lack the mechanisms to influence the country’s male-dominated boardrooms and legislatures.

Some 60 women leaders from as far away as Tatarstan gathered in Moscow in May to address the still miniscule part that women are playing in the decision making processes.

“We lack a coherent ideology,” said Irina Gorbulina, president of the Russian Academy of Business and Entrepreneurship, a business lobby that organized the conference.

“We are lagging so far behind the West’s experience.”

For example, leading Russian businesswomen founded the Committee of 20 in 2002, modeled after the Committee of 200 in the United States, a powerful lobby group for women in business.

Irina Eldarkhanova, a member of the committee and the board chair of Konfael chocolate factory, said that Russia resembles “a family without women.”

In the elite Club 2015, which unites executives of more than 50 medium-sized companies, only four members are women.

The imbalances are reflected throughout the economy. While women in the West are estimated to earn 80 cents for every dollar a man does, Russian women make only 60 cents to the dollar of their male colleagues.

Despite a host of organizations dedicated to their cause, Russian women do not have a single voice, directly affecting the country’s social and economic policies, conference participants said. As a result, women are most vulnerable.

“All social problems have a woman’s face,” said Alexandra Ochirova, president of the Woman’s Future movement, a women’s charity.

Unemployment and sex discrimination affect Russian women on a mass scale, she said, adding that sociologists now talk of the “feminization of poverty.”

Women are also among the socially vulnerable groups that have been hit by the Kremlin-sponsored bill stripping them of Soviet-era benefits.

Some conference participants said women themselves were to blame for their underrepresentation in politics.

“If a woman runs for office, people will support her,” said Svetlana Preobrazhenskaya, a deputy in the regional parliament of Kaluga region and a director of a farming enterprise. But “as long as we don’t have quotas,” which would increase representation of women in legislative and executive bodies nothing would improve, she said. Preobrazhenskaya is one of only six female deputies in the 40 member regional parliament.

In spring the Duma refused to introduce a 30 percent quota for women on party lists, killing an initiative by Yekaterina Lakhova, head of the Women and Family Affairs Committee. According to the polling agency the Levada Center, 60 percent of Russians said at that time they would welcome the bill.

Women hold slightly more than 10 percent of the State Duma seats.

On the Forbes list of the country’s 100 richest people, there is only one woman, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina.

Although there are virtually no other female tycoons, Russian women are widely represented in small and medium- sized businesses.

According to Opora, a lobby for small business, 47 percent of employees in small enterprises are women — close to the 53 percent of the population that is female.

Experts said women’s concerns were justified.

Yet, some said certain issues still remain “marginal.”

Tremayne Elson, managing partner of recruitment agency Antal, said that career advancement problems that women face in Russia are still “marginal compared to the issues in Western Europe where due to comprehensive legislation and an increasingly ‘rights aware’ workforce this subject has almost become taboo.”

“I would, however, agree with the sentiment that women have to achieve more than men in order for them to progress to the top levels,” he said.

He added that his clients “sometimes air concerns about employing a female who is recently married and who may wish to start a family.

“In this recruitment market it is still relatively acceptable and easy to probe into the family life and aspirations of female candidates and it is not too difficult for employers to establish whether a prospective employee intends to start a family or is committed to developing a career.”