In Depth Society, 17/03/2020

Women’s Leadership Studio in Kharkiv: ‘Leaders Are Made Not Born’

Everyone knows that women can rise to the top through their efforts. Professionalism and the special qualities of female leaders break gender stereotypes about a woman’s inability to manage effectively.

There is also a high number of women who, for various reasons, have not fully revealed their leadership skills. After all, this process requires continuous improvement, generating new knowledge and skills.

Women’s Leadership Studio has been operating at the Centre of Gender Culture in Kharkiv starting from December 2018. It is coordinated by the Change Agency “Perspectives” NGO as a part of the “Centre of Gender Culture as a Platform for  Empowerment of Women and Youth” project supported by the EU. The Studio aims to assist women-leaders of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions, equipping them with tools to increase their efficiency, to bust stereotypes tied to efficient leadership, masculinity and femininity.

Tetiana Chernetska, Executive Director of the Change Agency “Perspectives”,  and Chairwoman Olena Reshetnyak are among the Studio’s founders.

The Studio ran consequent contests to select women-leaders representing the following areas: local self-government, civil service, social work, health care, and civil society. Four groups of up to 25 trainees already completed training programs in 2019. The fifth group will start in April 2020.

Up to now, the Studio organized 20 training sessions for a total of 120 hours, 6 hours each, for 92 women-leaders. Ukrainian coaches worked with the groups during two one-day training sessions on Saturdays. And foreign experts continued at three-day session over the long weekends at a local resort. The latter helped participants to fully focus on the learning process.

Ukrainian coaches Yuliia Kobykova, Olena Reshetnyak, Tetiana Chernetska, Viktoria Nesterova and others held training sessions on the following topics: “Putting Gender Glasses on,” “Becoming Effective Leaders,” “Time Management,” “Psychological Components of the Modern Leader’s Success” and “Planning and Delegation for Effective Leaders.”

Tanja Petovar, Serbia, MA in Law, coach with long-term international experience, Serbian human rights defender, advisor to the Government of Serbia on Democracy and Equal Rights at the Oxford Academy of Southeast Europe, Director of many UNDP, USAID projects in Eastern Europe conducted self-management training sessions for two groups.

The participants were also able to get invaluable experience at the training by Maria Sanchez Garcia, Ph.D., activist, feminist, culture expert of the Spanish delegation to UNESCO. During the training session, the social workers discussed the challenges of women empowerment and Maria Sanchez Garcia helped them to polish communication skills to promote their ideas in social networks.

Executive advisor, consultant, co-developer of the “Hospital of the Future” concept Valentin K. Wepfer from Switzerland, completed a three-day training session with a group of secondary health care representatives. On the first day, the participants rethought their roles of chief doctors and managers in hospitals under the reform of health care in Ukraine. Also, they studied the current global trends in health care, discussed how to use these trends to develop their institutions, and applied change management techniques to model the influence of changes within the society on demanded services provided by private and public hospitals.

Upon completion of the training program, the Studio team ran a competition to choose 15 leaders for a study tour in  Sweden. A group of experts evaluated submitted applications and authors of the ones with the highest points were invited for a visit. According to the Studio coordinator Anastasiya Makarenko, this country wasn’t chosen by accident as it is a bright example of the country with gender equality. The visit aimed to provide participants with the role models practicing the Swedish leadership style which is according to Anders Richtnér, Associate Professor and CEO of SSE Executive Education culturally embedded concept relating to factors such as openness, lack of hierarchy, informality and a permissive climate as well as the Swedish experience of achieving gender equality.

According to Tetiana Chernetska, the training program was helpful for most participants. Some of them were able to open their own business, to start working for an international NGO and to become individual entrepreneurs. Declarations of a Gender-Sensitive Organization which will be implemented in Kharkiv has been almost completed by the training participants so far.

Kharkiv Observer correspondent talked to the training sessions participants: Marianna Sivni and Svitlana Sitnik from civil service and self-government groups. They shared their impressions about the training and study tour.

Kharkiv Observer: What is your occupation?

Marianna Sivni: I’m a lawyer in the Kupyansk town council in Kharkiv region.

Svitlana Sitnik: I’m the Deputy Head of the Department for Family and Youth Affairs of the Kharkiv city council. Now, I’m on my maternity leave. I’m also the president of the Kharkiv Volunteer Center NGO. Our organization has been operating since 2007 and we work with kids, teenagers, orphanages and boarding schools.

Kh.O.: Why did you choose Women’s Leadership Studio?

M.S.: I have been interested in the development of female leadership in my profession. I have always had leadership capacity but I wanted to get some guidance to become successful professionally. During the training courses, we were taught to be leaders not only in the professional world but in our communities, our hobbies, and family relationship.

S.S.: I have always strived to build my leadership capacity and to help others do it.

Kh.O.: How did you find out about Women’s Leadership Studio?

M.S.: I saw an announcement on the GURT website. Later, I found more content on the Centre of Gender Culture Facebook page.

To become Studio’s training participants, we had to pass through competitive selection: to fill in the form, write a motivation letter and a CV. Those who passed were invited to participate in the training.

Kh.O.: Which of the four groups were you trained in?

M. S.: I studied with the civil service group.

S.S.:  Self-government group.

Kh.O.: What training sessions did you participate in? Which of them were the most beneficial for you?

M. S.: The program for our group started in April 2019. The first two 6-hour training sessions were held in the Centre of Gender Culture every Saturday. I would like to highlight personal growth and psychological session.

After that, we had 3-day training outside the city with Spanish coach Maria Sanchez Garcia. There were awkward moments like stepping outside of your comfort zone, revealing ourselves in front of others so we had to look at ourselves differently after the training session.

Other trainers were very experienced too. We made friends with some of them during the courses.

Ukrainian coach Yuliia Kobykova, a psychologist, treated everyone in special ways and presented the course in simple terms.

I wish to highlight the role of Studio coordinator Anastasiya Makarenko. She is a very organized person and became a friend of each participant. She united and organized us as well as facilitated the process of studying.

S.S.: For me, the whole course was very useful. Also, training sessions in the countryside, conducted by Tanja Petovar, a wise and experienced coach, who shared information about self-management for leaders, how to develop ourselves and how to apply the theory in practice help us a lot in our further work.

Kh.O.: How did you benefit from your visit to Sweden? Which participants got the opportunity to go there? 

M. S.: Competitive selection was conducted in several stages. Only 15 participants out of almost 100 got a chance to go there. They had to successfully complete all training sessions, to get positive reviews from trainers, to prepare a project on gender issues and to write a motivation letter. Each application was evaluated based on the mentioned criteria, and those 15 women with the highest points got a chance to go on a study tour.

Anastasiya Makarenko organized our trip on September 16-20, 2019. We spent five days in Gothenburg, Sweden, where we had a very busy schedule.

Kh.O.: Marianno, where did you start your training in Sweden?

M. S.: The training started at the Gothenburg Folk High School – Kvinnofolkhögskolan. On the first day, we met Agneta Wiren, a school co-founder, and learned the story of the school and about its main activities. We communicated with female students from various countries. Each of them got in difficult circumstances and studying at this school gives them an opportunity for self-development, learning a language, entering the university, obtaining occupational skills and getting a job in the future.

Kh.O.: Marianno, what did you remember the most?

M. S.: As a lawyer, I was very fond of meeting with the head of Gothenburg Rights Center Against Discrimination Annika Lindstrom. Such centers’ activities aim to protect the rights of people who have been discriminated against. Annika noted that the Swedish law identifies signs of discrimination. Centers provide full legal assistance in case of discrimination recognition. It should also be noted that such centers operate at the expense of the state and their assistance is free of charge.

Kh.O.: Marianno, what were you impressed the most with?

M. S.: I was impressed by the success story of the political scientist, Deputy Mayor for cultural affairs, human rights and youth issues Mariya Voyvodova. We learned from her the main directions of the youth council’s work and the implementation of youth policy in Gothenburg, the issues of the city council and the executive committee. It turned out that the number of women and men in the city council is equal.

Kh.O.: Marianno, what conditions are created for people with special needs in Sweden?

M. S.: During our training, we also visited the Center for People with Special Needs, which was built with donations. Such centers operate in almost every Swedish city. The center provides these people with various opportunities, including the opportunity to go swimming, have music lessons, develop their abilities and enthusiasm in every possible way.

In Gothenburg, there is a very convenient and comfortable infrastructure for people with disabilities and parents with strollers. There are comfortable ramps, specially equipped toilets and public transport.

Kh.O.: Marianno, how is the city’s policy formed taking into account gender issues?

M. S.: During the presentation that was held by Eva-Marie Kjellstrom, a gender advisor, we were told that the most equal conditions for life and development for all segments of the population, especially women, children, sexual minorities, transgenders and people with disabilities are created with the efforts of the local self-government with the state funding.

Kh.O.: Marianno, is there an organization that implements gender equality and counteracts violence?

M. S.: While visiting Jämy, the Swedish agency for gender equality, Lena Bjurving told us about the main areas of the agency’s work. It carries out the monitoring function for gender equality observance and combatting violence by all enterprises, institutions and organizations. The agency currently employs 60 men and women. During the trip, we were able to see a new city area that became home to mostly migrants and refugees. In this area, the state has created conditions for normal life and development of the entire population, apart from houses, a school, a community center, shops, cafes, markets, etc. have been built there. Many people from different countries have found their homes and protection in this area.

Kh.O.: Marianno, what other positive moments while visiting Sweden can you highlight? 

M. S.: Among positive things, I’d like to mention are the high quality of the city’s water, excellent operation of public transport, a great number of parks, the attitude of the locals towards climate, ecology and health. A trip to the archipelago, guided city tour, delicious meals were unforgettable. And of course, smart, stylish Gothenburg women who inspire and strive for equality for all are inspiring. Sweden itself is inspiring with its history, nature, the North Sea and the wind.

Kh.O.: How did training sessions by the Studio help you in your professional life?

M. S.: They helped a lot psychologically. I became more self-confident, I learned that I can do something new, become more successful. Now, I don’t hesitate to change my area of work as I understand that I can create projects myself and it could be useful in my future career.

S.S.: They benefited my work at volunteers’ school. Upon completion of the Studio’s training program, I can organize training sessions on gender culture and gender equality myself.

Also, we started cooperation with the Centre of Gender Culture where we can get sage advice and we know that we can find like-minded people who always support us there.

Kh.O.: What would you advise our readers?

M.S.: Move forward, go beyond your limits, don’t hesitate to take part in various projects. If you don’t try, you won’t gain extra knowledge. You are capable of getting things done in all areas of your life.

S.S.: I would suggest being more proactive, keep in touch with new people and gain new information, develop not only yourself but help others in doing it.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Photo: Women’s Leadership Studios, Marianna Sivni, Svitlana Sitnik

The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.