Understanding and Supporting Female Business Leaders in War-Torn Ukraine

Understanding and Supporting Female Business Leaders in War-Torn Ukraine

In 1994 I moved from the USA to the Ukraine to study leadership there and fulfill the requirements for my doctoral dissertation. My study compared the leadership of a University Vice President and her network with that of an Entrepreneur and the leaders that supported her. 

After 18 months of data collection, I wrote the first dissertation ever written by an American with a focus on leadership in Ukraine.  In the process of doing so, I became intrigued by the work being done by the Entrepreneur and her network.  I tried to understand the challenges she faced in leading a business in the post-Soviet environment (the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991) and how she could be effective given the barriers that she faced.  I was inspired by the fact that she faced many barriers but pushed on in spite of the challenges that this involved.

There were many barriers for women in business there, a fact that was pointed out to me by my students as well.  Many of them studied companies as projects for courses in my classes and discovered the challenges that they faced.  Yet they persisted and were able to found and lead companies in this environment.

After moving back to the USA in 1999, I decided to try to understand in more specific ways the kinds of barriers that they faced.  I knew the obstacles were there but I wanted to know what they were and whether they could be removed.  I developed a proposal to explore this and the grant I applied for was approved.  Through the financing provided, we sent interviewers to 23 out of 25 regions of Ukraine (a country the size of France) and asked Entrepreneurs who were women what barriers that they faced.  Then we invited them to come together and discuss.   

The results of the study were surprising. We expected to see government bureaucracy as one of the barriers (which we did) but did not expect the Entrepreneurs to report a shortage of qualified personnel, in a country where individuals cannot find jobs.  We also thought that women who were Entrepreneurs would value and appreciate their own success, which they did not seem to do.

To understand these barriers in a clearer way, I wanted to build on this through a quantitative study.  In order to do this I applied and was approved to become a Research Fellow at the Center for Management and Entrepreneurship here at the University of Phoenix. During this Fellowship, we created a quantitative questionnaire based on what we had learned in the original study, distributing it to 1000 women who were Entrepreneurs throughout the country.  Like the previous study, the data was collected by researchers and academics who were based in Ukraine.  Research Center leadership was a great support during this time and co-authored the report on the second study.

The results surprised us again.  The lack of qualified personnel came through once again as did the barriers to Entrepreneurship that women faced.  We discovered through the second study that women network more than we previously thought they did but continued to realize that they do not value their accomplishments as much as they should. 

An interesting conclusion to this story is that both of these studies have been widely published and read in Ukraine.  They have been published in newspapers and broadcast on television and radio through interviews both with myself and the local researchers there.  We feel they are seen as important locally because they help address some of the key factors that keep women who are Entrepreneurs from being successful.  This is especially important in war-torn Ukraine (the war continues on its Eastern border) because many of the jobs that were there before the war and in Soviet times have now gone away.  Women need to start businesses out of necessity: to provide for their families and help them break through the glass ceiling that has long existed there.  Understanding and removing the barriers that they face can help transform the business environment in this area and make it easier for them to succeed.

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John Johnson

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John Johnson
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