CLEOPATRA’S NOSE or the profile of a Russian business woman
Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French scientist, once said that “had Cleopatra’s nose been shorter, the history of humankind would have developed differently.” It’s a wise observation. After all, only stupid men think they’re in control of everything. In Russia, we see it like this: the man is the head, the woman is the neck.
The Russian Federal State Statistics Service recently announced that there were 1,156 women for every 1,000 men in Russia in 2018. Say what you will, but Russia is a country of women. And this isn’t just a matter of numbers. Over the course of many centuries, the Russian woman was always more proactive, goal-oriented, and brave than the Russian man. In many ways, this is reflected in our proverbs and fairy tales, where the man is often portrayed as lazy – he relaxes by the furnace, while the woman works hard. The Russian woman often ends up forcing the man to wake up and get moving.
Do you know how the 1985 perestroika that fundamentally changed Russia started? Everybody thinks it’s the work of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the country’s leader at the time. But the true inspiration behind perestroika was his charming wife, Raisa. At least this is what many Russian intellectuals think – that it was Raisa, and not the politburo, who directed Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s wife knew that it were women who suffered most from the shortages that plagued the country. There was nothing to buy in the stores: no beautiful clothes, no nice shoes, no lingerie, not even lipstick or nail polish! This “silent women’s protest” was what really rocked the socialist boat, which was already broken because people lacked basic necessities…
Yes, Raisa Gorbacheva is just like the lovely women that famous Russian poet Nikolay Nekrasov wrote about in his famous work “There are Women in Russian Villages.” He exclaimed with admiration that the Russian woman is capable of anything, that she will “stop a horse at full gallop, walk into a burning house.”
He wrote this at the end of the 19th century, which means over a hundred years has gone by since. So has the Russian woman changed? And if so, then how? According to data from public opinion polls, she has become even more proactive. In spheres like entrepreneurship, for example. According to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, 32% of business owners in Russia are women, putting Russia in fourth place on the index.
And here are more numbers that the newspaper Kommersant published, citing experts from the National Research University Higher School of Economics. In 2016, women’s share in business increased by 54%, while men’s share increased by just 19%. The majority of business people of both genders are between 35 and 54 years old. According to the results, the youngest entrepreneurs have just recently turned 18, while the oldest are 64 or older.
So why is this happening? What makes so many women enter the risky world of Russian entrepreneurship? Some analysts think this is the result of the economic crisis. According to the authors of the study published by the Higher School of Economics, women are more active during crises because they don’t have alternative income sources. About a third (35%) want to improve their financial standing so they don’t have to depend on anybody. 27% want to build their social status and show that it’s cool to run a business. 22% want to implement their business idea.
Women usually do business in the social sector – 90% of all people working in this field in Russia are women. Women also make up 36% in sales and 11% in manufacturing.
It’s also worth pointing out that it’s more difficult to do business in Russia as a woman. But things are changing in this regard, and public attitudes toward women in business are gradually improving. About 56% of respondents view women in business positively. Only 17% disapprove. In their opinion, women who do business prefer to focus on their career instead of fulfilling their natural purpose – having children and focusing on the family. Polls also show that women have noticed the positive changes for women entrepreneurs. First and foremost, these changes are linked to more access to financing, improvements to educational programs, as well as more welcoming attitudes.
This is a positive trend. According to Guzeliya Imaeva, CEO of the National Agency for Financial Studies, the development of female entrepreneurship is really important for the country’s economy — it’s a real way to speed up economic growth. In all fairness, one has to admit that things aren’t yet equal when it comes to women in business. It’s important to create the kind of environment that would encourage women’s business aspirations long before they register their enterprise, Guzeliya Imaeva thinks. A more favorable social and information landscape is also key. This is why, over the past 5 years, mentions of women in business have increased by 14 times in Russian media.
But entrepreneurship isn’t the only sphere Russian women are proactive in. According to Grant Thornton International, 45% of top managers in Russia are women. For the sake of comparison, that’s three times more than in Germany, and double the number for the UK and the US.
In this article, we didn’t talk about the charm and extraordinary beauty of Russian women. But that’s another story…