By Makhabbat Sadykova

Astana hosted the first International Women’s Forum on March 4. The forum as titled “Zhaina” which is translated from Kazakh as ‘to blossom and flourish.’ Successful businesswomen and motivational speakers from the United States, Singapore, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and different regions of Kazakhstan flew to Astana to give inspirational speeches in front of 500 women who are set to become the future leaders and successful entrepreneurs. 

Zhaina Forum took place in Astana


Aliya Zholboldina, Forum Organizer

According to forum organizer, Aliya Zholboldina, trends like the Time’s Up Movement clearly demonstrated that this is the time for women to be proactive, take leadership and make changes towards improving the women’s role worldwide. The organizers also highlighted that the best business cases and real-life stories can lead by example the Kazakh women and contribute to the betterment of women's entrepreneurship in Kazakhstan.

Yevgeniy Son, Spokesperson, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

Spokesperson from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Yevgeniy Son, explained why women’s business is distinct from businesses of men. According to Son, today structural transformation is taking place in the Kazakh families where both men and women work but the women still do the largest part of the housework and parenting. Women have less time to run their businesses and take active part in social engagements which means men and women in Kazakhstan have different starting points, Son said. He noted that this why the EBRD singled the women’s business out of the regular business so women can use the help to improve their businesses to the standard ones.

George Krol, U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan

To kick off the day with success stories, U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan, George Krol was the first to give an empowering speech about women who made successful careers in the U.S. Department of State. Mentioning a number of female diplomats in leading positions, Ambassador Krol said that women demonstrate natural talent of a diplomat because they have to learn and master the art of persuasion in order to strive in a male-dominated world.  The U.S. Ambassador paid special attention to the policies of absolute intolerance on sexual harassment adopted by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Federal Government. He said that employees should be provided with training on topics related to sexual harassment. What is sexual harassment? Why does it happen? How to respond if the case of sexual harassment is reported? These questions should be addressed in every workplace, asserted the U.S. Ambassador. Moreover, George Krol made his own statement regarding the maternity leave. In his opinion, it is unfair to consider it as a leave because childcare is a work not a vacation. The U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan called everyone to change this situation.

Nicholas Brousseau, Canadian Ambassador to Kazakhstan

Canadian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Nicholas Brousseau was the second to take the lead on empowering the Kazakh women. He strongly recommends the Kazakh government and industries of the country to pay special attention to career advancement and employment of the Kazakh women. According to Nicholas Brousseau, it is also necessary to listen to the needs of women entrepreneurs and overcome barriers. As the vivid example of benefits of economic empowerment of women, he highlighted the research done by the McKinsey and Company which showed that narrowing the gender gap in Canada could add US$150 billion to Canada’s economy by 2026. The Canadian Ambassador also pointed out that the companies that have more women in leading positions perform much better than the companies that don’t have women in leadership. Along with empowering the Kazakh women to actively participate in the corporate world, Nicholas Brousseau told that the Kazakh government should adopt a legalized strategy of equal pay for equal work and set the procedures on filing complaints against discrimination in the workplace. The Canadian ambassador stated that Canada and Kazakhstan can take different roads but the two countries are on the same path of empowering women in business.

Megan Tetrick, Attache for Culture and Education at U.S. Embassy in Astana

Megan Tetrick, Attache for Culture and Education at the U.S. Embassy in Astana has her own ‘woman’ experience and beliefs on gender discrimination in the workplace. Megan Tetrick shared her childhood dreams like in the 2nd grade she aspired to apply for Harvard University and become a future woman president. She believed that women can and should become the leaders in all areas and since then she hasn’t changed her vision. According to Megan Tetrick, the only thing that didn’t change was the fact that there is still no woman president in the United States. Then she has realized that gender roles are much imbued into the society. The women who are accomplished in their lives are often called as independent, strong, bright and decisive while men are entitled to these definitions from their birth, told Megan Tetrick. She also highlighted the negative connotations regarding women CEOs who are seen as aggressive, subjective and bossy in their society. According to the Attache, how we can improve the situation if the women themselves don’t like their women bosses. Megan Tetrick called every woman in the forum to support each other since all the women have common issues. To quote Megan Tetrick “The men got it earlier; old boys club of rich white men meets in a smoking room to where no woman is allowed.” In order to demonstrate the lack of unity among women, the Attache pointed out that women compete with other women for a man and even after marriage women compete for men and this is how they become rivals.  Megan Tetrick inspired the women to change this mindset in the society since people create culture not vice versa and people change over time.

To sum up her brilliant speech, Megan Tetrick indicated that  women’s support to each other are more than mentoring and listed the three examples of ever day strategy on how women can endorse each other in the workplace.

  1. Hold on to each other. Ask women’s opinion more often in meetings. In addition, if you see a woman presenting her good ideas in a meeting, you can point out how good her ideas are. This would give the women opportunities to be part of a team.
  2. Give a fair feedback. If you see a shy woman who isn’t heard in the meeting and you liked her ideas, you can talk to her in private in order to encourage her to speak louder and compliment her good ideas.
  3. Give interesting tasks to your female coworkers and employers. Promote them as head directors and project leaders.

The Attache for Culture and Education at the U.S. Embassy in Astana, Megan Tetrick clearly stated that women should unite together in order to fight the professional discrimination.

Zhaina International Women’s Forum shed some light on the possibility of a  bright future awaiting Kazakhstan if every woman is given equal opportunities.