Olga Pleshakova, chief executive of Transaero
Work ethic: Olga Pleshakova, chief executive of Transaero

Even though the economic crisis is forcing many Moscow retail outlets to close, fashionable cafés in the Russian capital are filled with glamorous ladies of leisure passing the time while their menfolk are at work.

But Olga Pleshakova, the chief executive of Transaero, Russia’s second-biggest airline after Aeroflot, is sorry for women “who think that being rich is the right to have nothing to do. If you get to your 30s and look back and see nothing except sitting in cafés, going to the cinema and shopping it’s rather sad.”

Russia dropped laws obliging every adult citizen to work, after the Soviet Union’s demise, freeing women to return to traditional female roles. But Russian career women still benefit from the legacy of seven decades of Soviet-ordained gender equality.

Russia is a global leader in gender equality in the workplace, according to a study by Grant Thornton, the global professional services firm.

The 2015 Women in Business: The Path to Leadership report published this week found that two-fifths of senior management positions at Russian companies were filled by women, a larger proportion than in any other country in the world.

Russian women typically do well in information technology, retail, media, manufacturing, transport and communications. Many excel in the financial sector, starting with Elvira Nabiullina who, appointed to head the Russian Central Bank in 2013, became the first woman from the G8 group of nations to head her country’s top monetary authority.

Oil, gas and metals, however, are largely a male preserve. Women are also vastly outnumbered in politics.

Russian women’s relatively strong performance in business is partly explained by demographic factors, including the country’s gender ratio that favours females by 57 per cent to 43 per cent, says Tatiana Gvilava, the president of the All Russia Organization for Women in Business, a government-funded advisory group. Russia also has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, leaving many women with no choice but to be breadwinners.

Although female participation in the workforce is higher than in many developed countries, Russia has a gender income gap, with women paid on average 30 per cent less than men, according to the World Bank.

Benchmark salaries are the same for both sexes in Russia, but women often agree to lower pay because they are keen to secure or keep jobs, says Elena Vitchak, vice-president and head of human relations at Sistema, the Russian investment group.

On the positive side, employers are forbidden by law from firing pregnant women or mothers of infants under three and must offer three years of maternity leave.

Women who rise to the top tend to have leadership qualities, while for others a lack of confidence prevents them from fulfilling their potential, says Svetlana Balanova, the general director of IBS, the Russian IT services provider, who also sits on the Committee of 20, an organisation to help Russian women achieve chief executive roles.

“There’s no gender discrimination in the Russian workplace,” she says. “Women are held back by glass ceilings in their heads.”

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