Russia’s Businesswomen Are Heading West For MBAs In Europe

Russia offers opportunities for women in business. But young professionals want international exposure abroad

Women in business are on the rise in Russia.

Russia boasts the highest number of women at senior boardroom level in the world, according to a 2016 report by multinational professional services firm Grant Thornton.

In Russia, 45% of senior management positions are held by women. The global average is 24%.

At all levels, Russian businesswomen are looking to MBA programs to help them take the next steps in their careers. In 2014, 53% of Russian GMAT takers were women.

With Russian business education still in its infancy, the value of a full-time MBA in Russia is small. Increasingly, Russian women are leaving home to gain international exposure at top-ranked business schools in Western Europe.

We spoke to four female MBAs from Russia to find out more.

Tatiana Konovalova, MIP Politecnico di Milano, Italy

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Tatiana worked in technology and outsourcing in Moscow prior to her MBA at MIP in 2010. She returned to Russia after her MBA and changed jobs to work for a growing footwear company. Today, she develops new cosmetics brands for a leading Russian retail chain.

On leaving Russia… Right from the beginning, I was looking for international MBA programs in Italy. Studying abroad means a completely new experience, and you get the opportunity to study with people from so many different countries.

If you want to stay and to work in Europe, it’s a huge advantage to have a European MBA. A Russian MBA degree doesn’t give you the same advantage.

On the MIP MBA… The knowledge, skills, and the experience I got during my MBA at MIP helped me a lot when I came back to Moscow and changed jobs. My MBA was a big advantage in the application process. It shows that you are a person with a business mindset, and that you can take responsibility and think outside of the box.

On women in business… The role of women in business in Russia has changed a lot in the past few years. You can find women in senior management positions in every industry, and the percentage of women in senior positions is growing each year.

Of course, women still face certain difficulties and stereotypes. Some employers believe that women are too dependent on their families, can’t take risk and are less ambitious. Sometimes it’s really difficult to find a job because of these prejudices. You have to prove your professionalism and competencies every day.

Maria Narusova, HEC Paris, France

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Before relocating to France for her MBA in 2012, Maria worked as executive assistant to the CEO of UC RUSAL, the world’s second largest aluminum company. After her MBA, she took the triple jump – changing role, industry and location – and landed a relationship management job at Schneider Electric in France. She speaks at open days and interviews potential candidates for the HEC Paris MBA.

On leaving Russia… One of my goals was to get experience of living and studying abroad in an international setting. I was considering working in Europe after my MBA, so I looked into programs outside of my home country.

On the HEC Paris MBA… HEC Paris was my top choice because of the school’s ranking, location, small cohort, collaborative spirit, focus on career switchers, and rich extracurricular life with events like the MBA Tournament (MBAT) and the off-campus leadership seminar at Saint-Cyr military academy.

During the MBA, we were told that we could change three aspects of our career; location, industry, and job function. The safer bet is to change one or two of those things. I managed to change all three.

I applied for an internship at Schneider Electric in France through the school’s intranet. It was posted by one of HEC Paris’ alumni. I got it, did my best during those six months, and was hired after that! I definitely owe where I am today to the HEC Paris MBA.

On women in business… In Russia, business is often perceived as male area of expertise. I see this changing, but change will not happen overnight.

International companies with their policies and values definitely help promote gender equality and women empowerment in the workplace. And I am happy to see more and more extremely bright and strong Russian women now getting more exposure, opportunity, and visibility than before.

Elena Fedorova, Cass Business School, UK

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Elena joined Cass with almost a decade’s experience in retail supply chain management in Russia and Kazakhstan. She’s just graduated, and is looking for job opportunities in London.

On leaving Russia… Initially, I considered studying an MBA in Russia because it could have given me more flexibility in terms of combining studies with work and family life. However, an MBA in Russia does not add any value if you want to get a job abroad.

Currently, the business education market in Russia is immature. Business schools don't participate in the international rankings and there’s a lack of good academic literature published in Russian.

On the Cass MBA… An MBA at Cass in London is a great investment in your future as it’s prestigious and valuable virtually everywhere. For me, London was especially attractive because of the huge number of career opportunities and the high post-MBA salaries here. 

My experience and qualifications are in high demand in this region. I see my future career in retail supply chain operations and consulting, and I’m aiming to get a job in London.

Valeria Pavlyukovskaya, IMD, Switzerland

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Valeria turned down the opportunity to become CEO of Russia’s first online retailer - Amazon equivalent Ozon.ru - to pursue an MBA at IMD in 2008. After graduation, she became the school’s EMBA program manager. She went on to overhaul the MBA and EMBA programs at the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo. Today, she’s the partner for Russia and the CIS at IMD.

On leaving Russia… At that point in time there was no alternative in Russia at all. I was not even aware that Skolkovo existed.

We don’t have a critical mass of really good professors in Russia. A good professor of business education is not only a great academic. It’s usually someone who’s been in business as well. In Russia, there was no open market, and so there wasn’t much business until Perestroika happened and the country opened to the world in 1991.

On the IMD MBA… I felt like I had reached a ceiling in my domain. I had the opportunity to become CEO of Ozon but I wasn’t sure whether that was the career path that I wanted to pursue.

I wanted international experience, to build my business knowledge, and to have a year of self-reflection to better understand what I wanted to do. My ultimate choice was IMD. Then, after graduation I got the opportunity to work for the school. That was a breakthrough moment.

On women in business… Women are less available in business in Russia. At Skolkovo, women made up 25% of the part-time MBA class, and not more than 20% of the EMBA class. There was one class with no women at all. However, when a woman applied. In most cases, she was a really good candidate. The rejection rate was much lower in the case of female applicants.

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