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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Climate Ripe in Russia for Women Entrepreneurs

Russian women, who make up a disproportionate share of the nation's unemployed, may find themselves in private business a little sooner than they anticipate. Grace Warnecke, a leading Western businesswoman and photojournalist, said at a panel discussion on Russian businesswomen Wednesday.

"Growing unemployment is going to drive Russian women into business maybe faster than they would like", said Warnecke, who founded Sovus, a consulting company, in 1989.

Women, who have been the first to lose their jobs as factories have cut back their work ferces, will be forced to start private businesses to provide for their families, Warnecke said.

Ironically, the panel, part of the Italtel Kremlin Cup Business symposium, included no native Russian businesswomen. One who was invited to speak could not attend. Other than the four who spoke at the panel on Russian businesswomen, no other women were scheduled to speak at the daylong conference.

The panel's speakers, all Western businesswomen, agreed that they did not personally experience discrimination, largely, they said, because they are Westerners.

"I have had very few problems", said Marjorie Rouse, bureau chief for NBC in Moscow. "But there is a double standard. They look at Russian women as different from Western women".

Rouse offered as an example an interview she conducted with the director of a Russian stock exchange. The director, a man, told her he would never hire a woman because he wants brokers who could work 18-hour days.

When Rouse pointed out that she was a woman and worked 18 hour days, the director said she was different because she is from the West.

Warnecke, who lived in Moscow as a child during the Stalin years when her father was the American ambassador, said that young women in Russia lacked positive role models.

"Women who have risen'to the top have not done so well", said Warnecke. She pointed to the suicide of Stalin's wife and the general loathing of Raisa Gorbachev by the public.

Annemarie van Gaal, co-founder of The Moscow Times, said being a woman in Russia can be an asset. She said the rules of business are different here than from the West, providing businesswomen with opportunities they would otherwise not have.

"Being a woman is not a handicap here", van Gaal said.

Kimberly Getto, managing director of the PBN Company, a public relations firm, agreed that Western women are treated differently from Russians.

"Almost immediately I was very well accepted by Russians", she said. "I don't think this exists for Russian women in the workplace".