Olga Abdrakhmanova, Deputy Director General for Corporate Relations of Verny Capital Group of Companies, took part in a new episode of "Dialogues of Strong People", supported by Visa and Forbes Kazakhstan.
Forbes.kz publishes a shortened version of the interview of the editor in chief Anastasia Novikova with Olga Abdrakhmanova.
F: Olga, Verny Capital Group of Companies is a very large group that has a wide variety of assets. You have a lot of duties. Tell us what your responsibilities are.
- I combine two functions in the position of Deputy Director General of Verny Capital Group: the first is Chief Communication Officer or Managing Director for Communications. And as a I also supervise the group's social, media, and educational projects. I am responsible for shareholder's reputation management, and I also supervise the reputation management of our assets.
F: Can you please tell us more about the social projects.
- These are the projects of Bulat Utemuratov Foundation and media coverage of the activities of the Tennis Federation of Kazakhstan.
"Autism. One world for all " program is one of our key projects. The program provides opening of autism centers all over Kazakhstan (we now have 9 centers). These centers help children with autism spectrum disorder to socialize and adapt to life. Another project is a reconstruction of the Main Botanical Garden of Almaty. It was completed last year.
We also have many grant projects, for example, a project with the Batyrkhan Shukenov Foundation. We also support the Association of parents who have children with cerebral palsy (ARDI). We build houses for vulnerable people: we built houses for flood-victims in Myrzakent, and people affected by a man-made disaster in Arys. We also built houses for multi-child families in Kyzylorda. We call this project "Balameken".
In addition, we are implementing a joint project with the Red Crescent to help the population affected by floods, in partnership with ForteBank, through distribution of aid cards.
F: How did you come to what you are doing now?
- I came, in general, quite purposefully and timely, as I believe. I am an economist. I graduated from the Agricultural Institute with a degree in "economics in the agricultural sector". I belong to the 90s generation, then everyone became economist or lawyer, but I never worked within my specialty. I was immediately carried away in the field of PR. It was 1999, when no one had any idea what Public Relations was, including me.
I started working for the first five-star hotel in the capital, and began to understand what is PR. I learned through doing. I worked there for 5 years, then I joined the Asian Development Bank as an external relations expert. After that, I worked for a long time as a press attache at the British Embassy in Kazakhstan. A significant period of my professional carrier was devoted to working in the public sector. During this period, I finally got a degree in Public Relations at the Royal Institute of Public Relations in London and at Robert Gordon University. After that, I decided to go into the corporate sector and joined Verny Capital Group of Companies in 2017.
F: Olga, you work for the group of companies owned by a very well-known and at the same time very private businessman. What is it like to work in a company founded by Bulat Utemuratov?
- It is a big responsibility. Our group of companies employs the best specialists in all industries. I have never faced such a high level of work requirements before. It is incredibly motivating and makes it possible to grow. Over the four years of work here, there has been a quantum leap, both in personal and professional development. I changed my worldview, my approach to life, and even my way of thinking. It even seems to me that the way I now comprehend some phenomena in life is completely different than it was before I took this job.
I am very grateful to our shareholder for the opportunities for personal fulfilment and for sense of involvement in the positive, powerful changes that our group's assets are making in their industries. I am very proud to be a part of this process.
F: What or who are you inspired by?
- I never stopped challenging myself, I always tried to move forward, but it was until I was forty. And then I started to get inspired by the people around me. I work with highly professional specialists. My colleagues and people we implement large-scale projects with inspire me. Implementing a large-scale project in a good team is my inspiration. I think that thinking big and starting big is the right approach.
F: Do you think it is difficult for a woman to build a career in a large corporation?
I cannot give a one-word answer, either difficult or simple. It seems to me that it depends on the woman herself. Of course, when you get a high position in company having significant knowledge and professional expertise, it might be easier. But when you start from the bottom, it could be harder because the path is longer. The corporation has many areas for horizontal growth, and there is a very long vertical way.
F: Many women say that at some point they face glass ceiling in large companies. Do you know this feeling?
No. I just wonder, who puts that glass ceiling? I think that the glass ceiling is a comprehensive concept, when a person, for example, outgrows an organization or their position, burns out and can no longer or does not want to work in a certain direction.
F: In Kazakhstan, the government is doing a lot to ensure gender equality in all areas of our lives. But we understand that women and men who work in similar positions usually receive different salaries. And usually this difference is not in favor of women...
- There are certainly some imbalances, there is a pay gap. And it is important to understand, why is this happening? Firstly, it seems to me that women have a priori lower level of ambitions when applying for a job than men. I often conduct job interviews, and while men tend to rate themselves higher in terms of financial reward, women tend to underestimate themselves and their merits, and they believe they deserve less money.
In addition, when a woman comes to an organization, and she begins to advance and grow, she usually has difficulty asking for an increase in salary or in a position. This means that the woman believes that she works well, and the management should see this and evaluate it. Men have no problems with this, they are more courageous, they go and ask, and usually they get it.
And thirdly, there is an outdated stereotype, as it seems to me, that men are the breadwinners in their families. I'm sure there are a lot of women who breadwinners in their families right now.
F: What needs be done to address the situation?
First, every woman needs to appreciate herself, raise her head high and go forward. To do this, you need to get a decent education, invest in your development and growth. It is also very important not to be afraid to assert yourself, your achievements, and talk about yourself.
In 2017, when I took this job, I came across a very interesting letter from mother (CEO, a member of the board of directors) to her daughter. She explains what a woman needs to do to achieve high positions: "A woman needs to be twice as loud as a man. A woman usually needs to work twice as hard as a man and be very well prepared". In other words, sometime man can be forgiven for unpreparedness, but woman is usually not forgiven. Everything depends on you - you must set a high bar for yourself. And as soon as she sets this bar for herself, I mean not only in terms of development, but in terms of her own assessment, the whole environment will immediately miraculously perceive and appreciate it.
F: Do you think it is possible to achieve a balance: to be a good mother and a good employee, a manager?
It seems to me that the balance here is unattainable, there will always be distortions. You just need to agree with yourself. For example, to say: "Now I have a child, they need me until the age of three." Well, do not pull yourself apart in different directions and run to work with a small child. You need to give them time so that you do not blame yourself later.
Then, after going to work, do not reproach yourself with the fact that you have to go on business trips and rarely be at home.
Children perfectly perceive working mothers. The main thing is not to feel guilty, to negotiate with yourself and be happy with yourself. And when everything inside is calm, then everything around is going well. And there are people who can take care of children while you are on a business trip, and help you out, and the spouse becomes more responsive to the division of family duties. In general, reality adapts to the feelings.
Watch the full interview with Olga Abdrakhmanova in the video.
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