The art of being a woman
Nadia Makova is an entrepreneur who defies stereotypes of women as simply housewives and mothers
Nadia Makova used the word “energy” to describe herself and she was absolutely right to do that - it is indeed an honest definition of her personality. She is a successful Russian entrepreneur, founder and CEO of several businesses, related to the EdTech, event and communication industry, and of Moscow Advanced Communications School and LXP-platform K-AMPUS (Learning Experience Platform). She has changed her field on Russian territory and has gained experience of both huge corporations and her own endeavours.
Nadia also has a down to earth, positive, but realistic attitude and even an hour long conversation can convince you of that. She makes jokes and is not afraid to say things exactly the way they are. However, she has faced judgement because she is a woman and wants not only to be a mother, but also a career woman. What is remarkable about her is that she tries to defy traditional patriarchal understanding of what a woman should and should not do and whether she could enjoy both a family and a business.
Changing the industry
What better way to shift society’s views than setting a personal example? Nadia knows what she is talking about because her career has been quite dynamic. She always had a strong interest in communications, events and entertainment, ever since she was in school. Later, she joined Unilever and was responsible for internal communications. She cherishes the experience there, as she learned a lot. She met her husband while working for the company and had a baby. However, as she explains, she still had a plethora of ideas and a great amount of energy, so she channeled them into her favourite field. About 10 years ago the event marketing industry in Russia was still in its early stages.
‘I decided to improve it and give a platform for people working in this area to get together, to exchange knowledge and experience. I wanted to become a translator between all parties in the industry, so Iaunched [professional] conferences”, Nadia remembers. She also started a professional, business-to-business publication in both Russian and English, distributed across Europe.
However, that was not enough to satisfy her ambitions. “I decided to move to the next level and to make the profession legitimate. There are no institutions for higher education in event management in Russia, while you can get such a degree in lots of universities in Europe and the US. Thus, I found great people who supported the idea and became my partners and we founded the Moscow Advanced Communication School and its Faculty of Event marketing”, Nadia says. The businesswoman shares that already 100 people have graduated with a diploma for event producers from the institution.
Furthermore, she was invited by “one of the leading social impact investors” in Russia to become CEO & managing partner of Theory and Practice - a media focused on lifelong learning and to conduct the launch of LXP platform K-AMPUS (Learning Experience Platform). “We aim to help companies not only to talk about the importance of team development, but to act accordingly. Our mission is that every employee in every company gets all the opportunities they deserve. Now it is not only media, but it is an IT platform for spreading the idea for lifelong learning not only for people, but for corporations as well”, she explains.
Overall, her career is intertwined with media, communications and EdTech. It is devoted to be “doing something useful for people”. Nadia has embarked on growing communities and it seems she is doing it well.
Her drive to move constantly and to bring progress to the communications industry and EdTech in Russia is accompanied by striving for a work-life balance. Yet being a woman in a leadership position has its own specific traits.
The curse of the social role
“There is a super heavy challenge for all women entrepreneurs - the perception of what their social role is, the role of mother and housewife”, Nadia says. In the last years she has been working in Moscow, but her family - her husband and her child, lived in St. Petersburg. “I was forced to spend three days of the week in Moscow and four days - in Petersburg. I saw a big question from many people, even close ones - “How can she do it?”, she says. The entrepreneur explains how she could feel judgment because she was splitting her time between her career and her family and not devoting herself completely to the latter. However, she explains that her confidence in her own abilities helped her ignore these ill-intentioned reactions.
“It is not about how much time you spend with your kid, but also how you feel about yourself. If you are not happy, if you are not doing what you like, if you are not helping people, earning money, whatever you choose...Then you cannot be full of the right energy and pass it on to your kids”, Nadia explains. However, she adds that her philosophy is not popular in Russia. On the other hand, it is accepted for men to spend 20 hours a day working and to spend time with their children on the weekends only.
Another example she gives is how people there judge a woman with a thriving career if she hires a housekeeper. “In more mature cultures this is normal, while here it is a developing trend. People are just starting to realise it is okay because the housekeeper is a professional who can [clean] better for less time and you can invest your time in your own project”, she says.
Her belief is that the biggest challenge is to change the perception of a woman - not just a mother and housewife, but most importantly, a person with their own passions, desires and path. “It is important to have the strength to say: “I don’t care what you say or think. First I am a person and then I am my gender. I know my priorities and I know I am doing the right thing for me and my family, so please do not push”, Nadia claims.
Let’s talk about gender
“Yes, [it is hard to be a female boss], especially when you have kids'', Nadia claims. She believes women become softer after giving birth, and it is completely natural. Teams also treat female project managers differently. “When they speak to a woman, they can tell her: “I don't feel well now, I have issues with my boyfriend, etc.” They would never say it to a male manager or at least rarely”, she explains. Thus, women in leadership positions should remind themselves that their team is not their children because if they become too soft, results will be worse. “It is better to be strict and drive your team to do their best '', Nadia says. She adds it is quite different for men than for women, as the former do not even think about these challenges.
Yet in general her field of work - communications, seems to be rather gender-blind. She believes she is lucky that she has not witnessed a glass ceiling in her industry personally, and she also adds that her impression is a field where sexism is not as prominent as in others. “There are certain industries and spheres that are percepted as male. Thankfully, communications and events are not among them”. There are several reasons for this according to her. “First of all, the industry is new and under construction and was developed in a time when people started speaking loudly about gender gaps and how wrong it is”, she lists. Also, the skills required to achieve success in the communication industry have been historically associated with females. “I know it is wrong to say there are male or female characteristics. Still, women are more prone to seek a compromise and be generally empathic”, she explains.
“Overall, I think men and women are generally equal and there are plenty of great marketing agencies headed by both women and men”, the entrepreneur explains.
However, this is not the case across other businesses. “There was a survey conducted by the Moscow School of Business Management [regarding] the gender gap among management in companies in Russia. It is really interesting because 33% of women said that they cannot afford to be on boards of directors because they need to combine taking care of families and kids. This is a huge problem and it is about working with our minds``, Nadia explains.
Meanwhile, she does quite a lot to inspire other women with her own example that women can have a career and family at the same time. “My advice to businesswomen is not to be afraid to set ambitious goals and to improve themselves every day to gain these goals. The glass ceiling very often is the one we set to ourselves. Of course, there are problems in society, but the first ceiling you should overcome is the one you put yourself”, Nadia says with a smile.