WE Founders
WE Founders

Episode · 1 year ago

WE Founders e8: The Gender Myths and Reality of Reaching Success


In this episode Gaia Montelatici will introduce you to one of the most successful women from Serbia!

Nena Stoiljkovic has a long-standing experience in impact investing in emerging markets, change management and innovative financial instruments such as blended finance. She has held several leadership positions in the World Bank Group's private sector arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and in the World Bank. Nena recently transitioned to the humanitarian field and is now working as the Undersecretary General for Global Relationships, Humanitarian Diplomacy and Digitalization at the International Federation for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva.

They talked about gender myths and the reality of reaching success - and you don't want to miss it!

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Host: Gaia Montelatici 

Guest: Nena Stoiljkovic 

Produced by: Impact Hub Belgrade 

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Welcome to the we founders podcast. We are women entrepreneurs, founders and investors. Sharing your stories about how we raise funds, invest and build our businesses from the Western Balkans. I'm your host, Guy Montelatachi, general partner at Studio expensures Nana. You've built an incredible career in the past twenty five years. You reach the highest ranks of leadership at I have ce. Now you're serving on boards for VC funds, as Under Secretary General for the International Red Cross, and you're definitely one of the most successful people I know. So I am absolutely proud and honor that you're here with us sharing your experience and your advice for all of us, because you have a lot of lessons to teach us. So let's just get right to it, and please start by telling us how actually do you yourself define your success and what you, in your view, see as the greatest peaks in your career and what that meant to in thank you very much, Guy, and good afternoon to all the all of you who join this podcast, and you're obviously two generous in terms of how you introduced me. I mean, I'm very proud of is to come from the the western Balkans and to go abroad with actually not speaking even good English, and then to find myself, twenty five, six years later, where I am, and you know you can, I can respond to your question more philosophically. I mean the great success is that we are alive, that we are on this planet and that we are given an opportunity to do something for others, I would say, not for ourselves, and if I kind of turn that around. That has always been my driving force. I consider my great success as as touching other people's lives one way or another, and I was very privileged work in develop mental or now humanitarian organizations, where that is the core of their mandate. So just by being in those organizations I was able to touch quite a lot of lives. I believe that through my work I created jobs in Africa, I helped women get more successful, I helped the planet get greener. I also have many, many people internally to grow their career. So all these lives that I touched, that's my biggest success and of course, the journey to get there was also what I consider my great success. I can talk about examples. I know that ...

...we have a few minutes bet each question, but whenever there was a big change to be made, when things were not going well and I was asked or pulled in to turn it around, that's when I draw most of the energy again, because the lives around me were changed, both internally and and externally. At one point, I was asked to run the Eastern Europe department out of Russia, and I was given this job at the worst of all times. I remember it was August two thousand and eight, when there was a war between Russia and Georgia. I was a manager, even relatively young manager, who's asked to be a director, to become a director in Russia, and we have to deal with the war at this was also the month when my father passed away, and I have had to pull myself together and completely operated at a completely different level in completely new environment, and I was sent to practically close or shrink that region, because it was felt that Russia was doing very well and it didn't need more development. However, with the war and the financial crisis that happened that for we were able to grow the business and create more jobs and impact so many companies in Russia and the whole Stern Europe. Ridge and so that's one of the stories of a turnaround where you kind of are pulled into into it for one reason and you actually end up delivering something completly different, much bigger and much better. That's amazing. But you know, when you talk about it now, you make it sound so seemless, you know, and so easy. But thanks, but I am sure there were a lot of difficult decisions to be made. How, how does how did that look like? What? What were some of the decisions that you actually had to face? I mean, it is difficult and I think being prepared to accept that level of difficulty, especially when you change jobs and especially for women, I think that is that is that the key milestone, right? I never thought that moving it a time from Istanbul to to Russia and moving one level up would be easy and but I also never thought that I would not be able to do it right. So when you walk in, you have to deal with it and you create, obviously, your support group. I will never remember that at that time the CEO of International Finance Corporation called me, a young director just placed in in Russia, and ask me whether I needed any help. And that happened with other other senior leaders in the organization. You also create your comfort zone within your team, in your office, in your region. You obviously draw a lot of support from your family when you have those sleepless nights or when it's only difficult. Then this was months and months of being difficult, and when you start losing that hope right you need some other people around you to pull you up,...

...because it's very difficult to go through this type of situations, especially for women with familist, by yourself. So it's absolutely not possible. You need that support system around you and you need to create it absolutely and I think that will talk about this throughout our conversation, about how how that is an absolute priority for your life and your career. But, as you were saying, your work is very broad. Its pens across a variety of issues and sectors, from impact investing into enabling environment business environments for gender mainstreaming. You've worked in the US, you've traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe. You've seen need for yourself in a lot of situations how women are underrepresented, indecision made can be in the in the workspace, in in business. From your experience, what do you think are still the under myths that are happening at that link women to business, and how do you think these play off role and how do you see that? They are at times not that true? To me, they're not never true. Honestly, I mean I'm a deep believer in the power of women. In my mind, I've managed many, many people. At some points in my life I was managing teams of Fivezero people when I was in the World Bank and running global practices. In I've see also thousand people in Advisory Services. Now also a lot of hundreds of people in the Federation of Red Cross and Red Cross National Society. So I I I know people. I mean I worked with a number of men in the number of women and in my mind in general, but I woulds a ninety nine percent women are better organized, they have better social intelligence. They are also more efficient because most of them have to multitask and they will spend less time and some empty networking in long lunches, in long chats in the corridor and they will basically try to get things done and then move on with their their personal lives. And so I'm a great believer in women and I have always employed women and have always supported women in in my career, especially when I could, when I when I started getting this higher level leadership positions. But the typical myths are that women are more emotional, that they will not be able to deal with big crisis, that with cool had right, that they take lex less risks. I personally don't believe in that. I myself...

...have taken risks, both as I made decisions in in my day to day job, but also as I moved through my jobs and now recently, even through the organization. So I absolutely don't believe in those teratives. But one thing that exists out there is that there is an unconscious bias by men when it gets to hiring women. And I have seen some great men and great leaders who have set targets for themselves that keep them very disciplined. A see, as says, directors who say I want my management team to be fifty percent women and fifty percent men, and they go out and they deliver. And if I if I can be open with you guys, I mean that's how I got my first vice president level position in if see, I was at that time the youngest vice president and I see perhaps in the whole World Bank Group, because my then boss, Swedish gentleman called the Larst to Noel. He decided to create a management team that would have fifty percent men and fifty percent women, and he was looking around to see who are the women, hyppotential, women with reasonably experience with, you know, whatever else he was looking looking at, and that's how I got in. However, I have to say that there is a bit of a danger there for women that if you have too many women be elected for those type of stroll too soon and you don't have them succeed, or don't you don't support them to succeed, then you have unfortunate effect that you know, someone got a job just because she was a woman. You don't want that either. So this is also message to all the leaders out there. I mean it has to be balanced decision. Personally, believe in what you call quotas, quotas on the boards, quotas or targets as you recruit your workforce and obviously as you set up your management team. That's very interesting because I think we're still their rights and I think that a lot of businesses and a lot of garments are putting new quotas out there. What we saw as you were saying, and is, you know, the dark side of the coin and how actually positive discrimination. I can disqualify the whole measure and the whole action just because not everybody is qualified in the same in the same way. And there's believe in the next podcast we can actually talk about that and we can talk about how gender influences, you know, your perception of whether someone is more or less qualified for that particular for that but particular job. But that's but that's super interesting. So you know, what do you? You know, you were saying how we even definitely take risks just as much as men do, and I will leave in that and I've seen that and I live that every day.

At the same time, there's still this sort of belief that, you know, we're not as ambitious right for that matter, and maybe I think that also has to do with some gendered communication at play, just because we don't, you know, standing the first line saying yes, I'm ready as I'm going to do this, yes, I'm the leader, yes, you know, don't worry about anything, you know, just give it to me and you'll see. That doesn't mean that we're not driven by high ambition, right, do you see that at play in your team. I see it in general and across the world. That, and I call it like women, is they're doing it to themselves somehow. I mean we're look at the college is right, you have fifty percent of women and fifty percent of men who graduate right and in some cases even more women and even better marks. And then something happens. Then, something happens in the S, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, where women actually slow down. And I and and I see to this day I walk into room froms full of men and even at my age right. So there is something that happened to women that slow them down so that those panels where I am well, those rooms where I walk in, those meetings where I go are still full of men. And when I turn that around, I'm not sure it's about not being risk taking. I think that sometimes women are being too critical on themselves and they're not willing to stretch themselves enough or even to try to stretch. There is this same story that we sometimes use, you know in trainings for women that if out of ten things that are required for the job, women has eight, she will say no, I'm not ready, I'm not going to go for it. I'll wait for some other time right, and if men has a five out of ten, they're going to say I'm really a perfectly suited candidate for that. So my message to all the women out there is think about how you feel about it rather than going by the book on whether you have all the all the elements of it. You have to stretch yourself to make that leap. That will then, one after another, will get you to be more confident, have a brother network, whatever else is that you're trying to achieve. It's not just about risk, it's about this honesty, or humility, I would say, almost shyness to go for some of those jobs or even try, and even through trying you learn, learn a lot and you gain a lot of confidence. And that's exactly what I did in every single change that I've made, the sleep of faith, and every next time it became...

...easier, easier, adjustment, easier to make that decision to change, easier, to run the business easier, to accept both successes and failures. Everything gets much easier if you do that multiple times. Absolutely. So back to back to your own experience as a leader, what strikes all of us, and and me particularly, is the fact that you know you've you've led, you've achieved both sides sort of the coin, on one hand sustainability of business and financials and on the other hand, social and environmental input, and it's very hard to do that in leadership right and what we know now for sure, and you know the pandemic world has absolutely confirmed this, is we need a lot more leadership like that in the world. So you know, what are some of your reflections about that? What is, you know, in your opinion, the the impacts of your leadership that you are most proud of and that you know? You think they to be accelerated by other leaders like you. I think it's not easy for leaders nowadays, as you said, to work on this multiple eplens. I mean everybody wants sustainable and profitable business, but it has to be greener now. Cover with obviously has impacted many business models, some for the better, some some for words. I wanted to make a point that I truly believe in the young generation. I think that and the young generation of women leaders. I think that young generation thinks less conventionally than then their parents, that they think more digitally, that they have different ways of solving some of the small and bigger world's problems. So I certainly know that going forward, I mean I will be spending a lot of time with young generation and trying to draw my energy and my ideas from them, but in terms of more traditional generation like mine, some of my bigger Chu biggest achievements come from I already made the reference to situations where I was put into a completely different environment to do something and when that's something happens either as expected or better than expected, right. And one of those examples was what in the World Bank, and nobody believed that for this Fund for the poorest which is around eighty billion dollars. Every three years it gets fund...

...raised from some of the richest governments in the world again to be put for the benefits of the poorest countries in the world. I was I didn't know even what that fund was, but because I was pulled from the private sector arm of the wall bank into the public sector arm to support that fund, and everybody said that it was not possible for that fund to have anything to do with private sector, to have a private sector component, and I said with the Group of ventusiasts, I would say, pulled from different departments, it didn't even report to me within the private sector arm of the wall bank to say look, we believe this is possible, we believe that that we have a case and we have to start from scratch to convince the wall bank that we want to have two billion private sector window out of the eighty billion. First in the history of the bank. We had to create the narrative, we had to go against our own organization, because nobody felt that that's an important thing to do and many people felt that it will not work. The last time this was tried, it was ten years before I tried it, and that pert person who tried it was literally kicked out of the room. Right. So those type of situations make me most excited, most determined, and you never obviously, work on them alone. You'll get bright people around you, very diverse team, very small one, very open behind the closed doors, and you openly talk about this is the problem at hand, this is how we're going to solve it, and then in the end we have to work with all the governments, we have to convince them all. It was a process that took about eighteen months and and guess what, in the first time of the history I'd a fund in the year eighteen, I'd eighteen had a two billion dollars for for private sector. There is king. So that's is just one of several situations in my career where I was put to do something close to him possible and then, through some systematic work, I made it possible. And if I make I just want to share one lesson of experience for me again for all women out there. Very often, because there's perfectionists right, we want every day everything to happen the way we wanted. But my advice is that you have to look at a week and at the end of the week what worked well and whatnot. Many times months, in my case, is sometimes years when things are difficult. Do not expect success and great days every day, but you want to be able to look backwards a year and to say, look at what we have done so now I'm better control. You know when I have a bad day or I have a bad situation, because I look at things in a longer time spence than just a single day or the single week or a single month. And if you practice that long enough, it will not show, I mean the stress and you know, any type of crisis will not show anymore so vividly on your face or have an impact on your teams. So I can resilience, Resililius and patients. I wrote here one word also endurance, right. I mean, success doesn't come easily and it doesn't come without failure. So...

...why have only successes? Patience, endurance, resilience and and, you know, belief, a positive, positive energy that will never get you into a cynical or negative mood. That's essential to be successful. I think that there is another characteristic that you you embodied, and that's actually recognizing good partners, put people to work with, you know, and enabling them to actually contribute the way that they can do their best. And this is a lot of times over look because they will heads. We are thought to think about our individuals, but in fact, you know, together with them, there's there's no of people who who contribute to the whole success. So it is, it is, it is so right, because another thing, again, that was the feedback that was given to me, that I never focus on myself and my own success. I focus on the task. And if focus on the task, then you work with your team. They don't work for you. You work with your peers, you work with your colleagues, even with your boss, is right. You work together to deliver something that's either unique or new, or growth or different, whatever your area of expertises and learning, a game that and and you shine more, right, as a leader that works more horizontally than, yeah, hierarchically, and it's never about you and your own success, right, it's about that something being accomplished together. Yeah, I think that that's actually a key, definitely priority for all that. So, going back to some of the gaps that we're talking about here, we still do see that there's Lauren levels of women into leadership, our level of women into decision making. What do you think car still things that hold, you know, women back from those positions or, you know, does it depend on us? Does it depend on, you know, more traditional systems? Does it depend on the environment? What? What do you see happening in there? There's a lot of talk about that and I know that you and I earlier on talked a little bit about women on boards, right, and how they can enable more women to to come and to and to start greatly stealing for them. That's a great question and I think it's cultural. I will never forget the situation where I talked to a mayor of the second largest city in in Japan who said that as she was growing through her political career, when she worked for the first time in the government's office, she was a professional, but they were asking her to prepare tea for...

...them. It was just an acceptable in that culture at that time to enter, thirteen years ago, that a woman would be a professional in the government building. Right. So you have cultures where this is kind of permuted through everything, and I deeply believe in education. I deeply believe that even through young people's education, we have to educate boys to support girls. We have to educate brothers to empower and courage make their sisters confident. It really because it's so deeply rooted in the culture. It has start very early on because if you don't do it early on, then at some point things will will will not go well later on. And they already made the reference to graduation, graduated students. It's equal number masters the same. So I think cultural change in communities is essential early on. This is the message to all the educators and all the families, of course, but then in the organizations, it definitely depends on the type of organization. I was lucky enough to work in organizations that were diverse, international where diversity mattered and was valued, but you could easily assume that there are many organizations where that's not the case. And I did believe that women should be doing more for women, whether it's women or boards or women's CEOS or women directors, vice presidents, managers. I don't see enough of that, unfortunately. And I also believe, and I've done it many times in especially in the International Finance Corporation, that networks of women should stick together. For example, what you are doing through this postcast is extremely important. Women have to be able to network together and to exchange their experiences, their success stories, their failures, and I was doing that. I was creating this high potential women networks. I was making sure that those women and were given opportunities to, if not to progress in their careers, at least to experience stretch assignment so that they can see how that looks, and there is a lot of learning that can happen throughout those networks. But if you ask me, what will really change the world so that in if we continue like this, I mean there is a statistics that in hundred seventy years only we will achieve gender parity on this planet. If you want to go faster than a hundred, seventy years, it has to start at the core, which is families, early education and education in general. That's so well said. And you know, I have one last question and then we can see someone wants to want to ask me something. Then then we're do you see these all going? You've told as already. You have a deep faith into the noir generations and you're smarter than us. They're more...

...independent and they have no ideas. You've really, really stressed the importance of cultural change and and family and and other roles you've told us about, definitely the enabling environments in business structures. How do you see this playing out as a trend in the next in the next few years, and do you see the there's going to be something that the western Balkans can be more part of? In those terms, are you more positive or more negative? Certainly more positive and always positive. At the time when I left my country, it was one thousand nine hundred and ninety three. I think the situation was much different than now, and I would assume that that's the same in the rest of the Western Balkans, I think there is a more deliberate desire to promote women, to position women in high level political positions in the organizations as well, and we have to continue with that, that trend, and what I would like to see a little bit more is that those women then support more women, including younger women, and embrace this sharing and learning and networking. And on the young generation point, the guy, as you know, I mean new jobs. I mean there will be unconventional people will be able to do their work from anywhere. They would need not to go to the office, is nine to five, as we do the everything will be more digital. It will not be even important whether, behind the camera, behind programming or a good solution or a good design, you're a man or a woman. Right. That's why I think we have a huge opportunity in the western Balkans, which is also predominantly, I would say, service oriented economies. We have an opportunity to hear more about successes of women, great stories and and and to run tighter, I would say, women support networks. So I'm very, very positive. Of course, situation is much different now than twenty plus years ago when I left then. I thank you so much it's been a very pleasure talking to you and will definitely keep connected, as you say, because it's super important to pass it all back to women and men and to everybody who's who was, who starting out and you want to actually develop a business, the career and and a living in today's world with more...

...positive impacts at all levels. So thank you so much again and if we do not have any questions from the crowds, everybody joined funds on on our channels. Thank you, guys, for focusing on such an important issue and it was a pleasure to spend time with you. Thank you very much. Thank you. That up thanks by day. Thank you for following our we founders podcast. Subscribe to or Youtube Channel, listen to our episodes on PODCAST DOT R S and sounder, and check our websites for updates on we founderstnet.

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