Posted by: Malgorzata Wolfe, Economics Officer
In this time of transition for the professional roles of women in Ukraine, many women are looking for ways to take charge of their own futures. I was lucky to join over 160 Ukrainian women entrepreneurs, owners of small and medium enterprises, during the April 12 Forum: “Women Entrepreneurs: the Next Driving Force in the Ukrainian Economy?” My heart filled with hope seeing dozens of dynamic women enthusiastically discussing conference sessions, initiating new professional contacts, and exchanging business cards — demonstrating that women in Ukraine are a critical part of the economy and the future.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine opened the Forum giving an inspirational speech about the importance of women’s leadership. The Forum’s goal was to promote the importance of Ukrainian women in driving Ukraine’s economic growth, boost the confidence of women entrepreneurs, and provide practical tools for further empowerment. The participants were given an opportunity to network, exchange experiences, and discuss strategic investments in the economic potential of women.
Minister of Social Policy Natalya Korolevska emphasized “Equal rights and opportunities for women and men – are truly global issues.” She pointed out that gender parity is particularly important during a time of global economic crisis and announced that her Ministry has been working on a draft law which would introduce a 30% quota for women’s representation in the public sector.
The Forum’s sessions gave panelists an opportunity to exchange personal experiences and share success stories. During one of the coffee breaks, one woman approached me and said: “When you do a business you think you are alone, surrounded with your own little problems. So, it is really encouraging to hear that other women are struggling with the same issues. It is good to talk about it. It makes you stronger!”
Two of the conference sessions focused on connectivity – one of the three “C’s” mentioned by Under Secretary Sonenshine, the other two being confidence and community. One panel focused on mentorship as an effective tool to raise future leaders, while the other concentrated on networking as a key factor for success. The first panel emphasized that as a mentor you “give back to society what you’ve received” – your education and experience. And mentoring can serve all ages; it should be seen as an overall investment in women.
Tapping the full talents of women — like those I saw at the conference — can help Ukraine achieve its full economic potential. As Under Secretary Sonenshine said in her speech: “Empowering women is about being smart. One way to understand how to ask the smart question today is not to ask ‘why women?’ – it is to ask ‘why not.’”