As an external expert and a woman with years of job experience in Kazakhstan, you probably have an opinion and understanding of the role of women in the corporate field. What is your experience and observations?
The Kazakh women that I have met during my many years in Kazakhstan have been well educated, dedicated, and professional. From an employer and human capital perspective, there should be no hesitation in employing Kazakh women, and supporting their growth through mentorship and opportunities— as society does for men. I am aware that there is some bias towards women as some employers believe that due to marriage and children, women may not be the right choice. Employers that hold the belief that women should not be in high leadership positions should be aware that studies show that in fact having a gender diverse company improves productivity and profit. I can’t judge for the whole country and all regions, but the picture I see in the Development Bank makes me very happy. We promote women and continue to support all person growth. All of the Chairmen of the Management Board that I have worked with at DBK - Mr. Bolat Zhamishev, and Mr. Abay Sarkulov - are supportive of women in leadership as is Baiterek under the leadership of Mr. Erbolat Dossaev and Mr. Aidar Arifkhanov. It is not enough to show statistics that women make up more of the workforce. Many companies can say, that more than 50 percent of their employees are women, but how many of them actually have power and are in fact decision-makers? I can confidently say that I work in an institution, which has never obstructed my and other independent directors' proposals for the promotion of qualified women to senior positions. During my tenure on the Board of directors, we promoted Alma Aimurzina as Head of Compliance, who reports directly to the Board and Committees. The Head of the Audit Department is Bakyt Zhussupbekova who reports directly to the Board and other Committees, the Deputy Chairwoman of the Management Board for risks is Sandugash Kenzhebayeva, Botagoz Abisheva is a Managing Director responsible for attracting funding and has led the Bank’s successful bond issuance, creating a successful international benchmark, the Corporate Secretary Aiman Kassenova is also a woman. These women are role models not only for women but also for men. It is important that young and older men get used to working with women in leadership positions.
According to the HR department, today 223 people work in DBK, 52% of this number are women. Looking at it from a gender perspective, 58% of all executive positions are held by women. In other words, 38 senior positions - from small departments to the management board and board of directors – are held by women at every level in the Bank. Therefore, I believe that DBK is probably an example to follow in this regard. Moreover, the HR department is required to include women in the list of candidates for every selection including Board of Directors, and regardless of their specialization. I also would like to dispel that women of Kazakhstan or anywhere should be judged professionally like a man. Women may be different in personality and demeanor or have a different work style and leadership traits. That is good. In fact, there is an online Leadership Course at University of Oxford that I am featured teaching men and women about the importance of the Authentic Leadership of women. Women must behave like women, and they mustn’t be made to imitate male habits. The idea that a woman should follow a man, or a man should dismiss a woman because she isn’t imitating a man, has long been outdated.
You are an entrepreneur yourself probably know, how does staff diversification affect the company's productivity?
- It has been scientifically proven many times that the diversification of staff increases productivity. If you hire people who think just like you, you have a very limited vision. The more diverse your people in leadership and the more people who are willing to become leaders, the more diverse your skill set, the higher your productivity, and the more stable your results. The pandemic has shown that everyone works very well through video conferences. The old idea that women are prevented from working by their children and taking care of their families is unfounded. There is another point, both women and men lack confidence. I think that in schools, universities, and families we should talk about the importance of being risky, but not reckless. It's important to give people the opportunity to act, even if they are not a hundred percent sure they can do so. When the company helps employees develop and people understand that they are doing something right, reinforce the positive narrative. It is also imperative that organizations create physiological safe environments as is the best practice of top global organizations. By creating these safe spaces collective genius can prosper.
Do you think this pandemic will change the approaches between top management and their employees to how they cooperate and communicate?
- When working with DBK remotely, I see high standards of professionalism. Employees are prepared and passionate, the information and discussions are as deep as in-person, the analytics and surveys are the same as they were at face-to-face meetings. Even if we agree or disagree with something, the level of professionalism is very high. The collegiality is amazing because we have created a safe environment to challenge and learn together. We continue to do our job as we should. The issue of trust is important here. There is a difference between a manager who thinks his subordinates are only robots needed to perform technical tasks and an employer who sees their people as professionals. If you are a professional and your team is professional and encouraged to excel, you don't have to micro-manage. If you haven’t hired a professional, that person won’t do the job. If your manager encourages his team to think as an entrepreneur in their role and act as a colleague to others, then you do not need to micromanage; which is not efficient management.
How do you think the remote environment will affect the quality of people's work?
- We are currently under this pandemic, with a lot of psychological pressure. Someone close to you may get sick, there's an emotional aspect to it, so it's very difficult to relax. Managers need to understand this. An employee will behave in a remote environment just as responsibly, honestly as in the office. This is not about a remote environment. A professional is a professional. A person who pursues a goal will always execute. There are people who are upset about this situation, and there are those who have taken the opportunity presented by the pandemic and bettered themselves through online courses and expanded their skill set. Opportunity is a state of mind and choice, regardless of the context. Many people, including me, have attended online courses, are still looking to develop skills, and some have not. I would like to add regarding management, that it’s extremely important for companies, institutions, and managers to create a psychologically safe environment. You shouldn’t see your employees as subordinates, but as people first. At the same time, you shouldn’t be psychotherapists for them. Psychological safety is about creating an environment in which people can generate ideas, where people feel comfortable offering ideas. Even if you have the lowest position, but you have a brilliant idea, a manager needs to be accessible to hear that idea otherwise the manager is failing its organization and failing as a manager. A brilliant idea can come from anywhere and from whomever. I would like to note that the world is not standing still and all stereotypes and attitudes about gender, the relationship between an employee and employer are changing rapidly with it. The pandemic and its consequences only accelerate this process. I can confidently say that a woman with a child and a laptop on her lap can help lead your company to success no less than a man in a tie sitting on a leather chair.