Breaking the Glass Ceiling 

28 Aug, 2019

Valentina Synenka, CMO at Symphony Solutions, talks about her path to the tech community from media, advertising, and photography and how her company’s favorable attitudes toward women influenced her career and many others.

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Despite discussions of gender equality for decades, women around the world are still behind their male counterparts in leadership positions and in salary. The innovative industry IT is no different, especially since most people entering STEM careers are still male. According to IT Research 3.0, the percent of women in IT in Lviv is 33% overall, still far from the desired 50%. Moreover, the pay gap remains wide, with male professionals being paid on average 21% more than their female colleagues. Valentina Synenka talks with us about how Symphony Solutions built a gender-sensitive culture in Ukraine, Macedonia, and Poland. Valentina shares her story.

From Art & Fashion to IT

I never thought I would work in the technology industry. I started my career at Luxen Studio, a large media holding company in Lviv at that time. Advertising was close to my college degree, so I started there, especially because I didn’t want to work in accounting despite my family expectations. I studied Economics and Psychology, but I always dreamed of the Arts. While working in advertising, I began to work as a culture journalist for radio news.  In 2007 together with a partner, I initiated Lviv Fashion Week, which was very new to the Ukrainian market.

At the same time, I organized a few art exhibitions and as of 2010, started publishing an art cultural magazine “A-Z art” in collaboration with Lviv Palace of Arts. I also took up art photography as a hobby and had my first exhibition at Dzyga Art Centre. It was there that I met Theo Schnitfink, Founder of Symphony Solutions. He wanted to visualize his organization to showcase the original style and persuaded me to do it. That was my first introduction to Symphony Solutions. 

Dutch Brand in Ukrainian Reality

When I first came to Symphony Solutions, the company was two years old. This industry was a different world to me from the art community, and this company was even more different, one that valued people and mutual compatibility. Theo wanted to create a place where he wanted to work, including the office itself which is modeled after a Dutch village around a big open park with green ‘buildings’ or meeting rooms with Dutch themes (Ex: The Red Light Room, The Flying Dutchman, The Delft Room, The Bicycle Room).

The empathy for colleagues and gender sensitivity comes directly from Theo. He had worked at a large American corporation, and despite his success and seniority, he dreamed of starting his own business without bureaucracy. He envisioned a company which reflects the feeling of natural balance when men and women are equal in number. He saw it as more harmonious and comfortable. Unfortunately, social influences have gotten in the way.

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Agile Transformation

When the speed of progress keeps accelerating faster than companies can reliably adapt, constant attentiveness and pivot are imperative for companies who want to stay in the game.

Agile Transformation (SAFe) became a major commitment of Symphony Solutions over two years ago. We hired an expert Agile consultant, who happens to be a woman, a very capable woman, to transform the company into an agile-driven operation on all levels. What I mean is that Agile operating style goes beyond development teams to include support services such as HR, Finance, Marketing, and Leadership. We all operate in scrum teams, and some of our best Scrum Masters are women.

We retain a guiding agile coalition to provide consulting services for clients, our own employees, and those in communities we serve. Since this initial commitment, Symphony has provided training sessions and certifications for over 800 people.  So we were of course very pleased when Symphony Solutions received the “Agile Transformation Company of 2017” Award by Technology Headlines in recognition of our growing Agile efforts.

Gender Equality in Tech

We know there are not nearly as many women in technology positions as men, but what many may not know is that these numbers are declining. Fortune Magazine says that the gender gap in computer and engineering jobs in the US in widening, citing 35% women in 1990 to 25% in 2017.  The Atlantic Magazine shows similar numbers. (A representative group of countries was selected for comparison.)

Women in IT, The Atlantic Magazine, USA

Country % Women in IT % Men in IT
Bulgaria 30 70
Australia 28 72
Romania 27 73
USA 25 75
Ukraine 20 80
UK 17 83
The Netherlands 16 84
Poland 15 85
Japan 13 87
Macedonia N/A N/A
 

Aside from Lviv, Symphony Solutions has two delivery centers in Poland, one in Macedonia, and one in The Netherlands, its headquarters. Poland is more male-dominated than Ukraine, and senior tech roles in Poland are even more often held by men, which is why it was so difficult to recruit women for our Krakow office.

Macedonia is a small, conservative country which is not progressive toward women, but there are some talented people trying to change those mindsets. As you can see from the chart, we don’t even have proper statistics for women in Macedonia. But we do know that only 5% of top management jobs in Macedonia are held by women. There is legislation pending to change this, but it will take time.

That’s why we were happy to sponsor research by the PSIHESKO Psychology Students Association in Skopje, Macedonia, aiming to understand women’s roles and career barriers. They will conduct a quantitative study on attitudes, experiences, and stereotypes of women overall and a qualitative study among men and women about women in tech industries. We are working closely with them on this.

Gender Equality at Symphony Solutions

The 50/50 gender balance at Symphony is an attitude that has been here from the beginning, is very natural for us. 52% of our top management positions are held by women. But it’s not enough just to have the 50/50 ratio. We live the philosophy by providing equally comfortable conditions and relevant benefits for women and for men.

Like many companies, we offer flexible schedules and allow people to work from home. If a child is sick, a man or woman may use his/her own sick leave to care for the child.  We have a corporate doctor who will come to your home, a psychologist, a masseur, and 3 or 4 different types of yoga and work out classes. Other benefits like a nail salon and brow master are more female, but the football is the guys.

Equal pay for equal work has never been an objective at Symphony Solutions, it is an assumption, a habit, it just is. We structure pay scales for the role, not by gender. But a wide salary gap exists within the industry overall in Ukraine. For example, HR, where women are effective and well-respected, has a 60% gap in pay for equivalent jobs. QA, Team Leads and Project Manager positions see a 25-35% gap, and only Business Analysis and Software Engineering roles have more equal salary distribution.

Women have always had to work harder to prove themselves, to be taken seriously. They have to be more mindful of how they carry themselves and of their dress, which is something men have never had to consider. Women entering STEM roles has lagged far behind men, and though more women are choosing STEM professions, they are doctors and chemists, not software developers.

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Inspiring Women

Symphony Solutions initiated a series of events called SHE, featuring high profile women discussing their personal paths. We saw this as a vehicle to inspire women to follow their aspirations and share with each other. The first was in Lviv in July 2018 called SHE.Conducts with Oksana Lyniv, who had studied music since childhood and is now the first female conductor of the Graz Opera and Philharmonic in Graz, Austria, and conductor of the Lviv MozArt festival, now in its 3rd year. She spoke about the difficulty of competing in a male-dominated environment, with women accounting for only 5% of conductors worldwide. She mentioned all the men watching her over the years waiting for her to trip and fall. But it never happened. Her determination and talent won. Her presence is as captivating in person as it is in front of an orchestra.

We followed this in November with Kateryna Kit-Sadova, wife of Lviv City Mayor and mother of 5 boys, SHE.Empowers. It was important to show support for many routes for women because the point is to be true to your own aspirations. Ms. Sadova was equally inspiring with her open, gracious style, expressions of her strong faith, and ability to laugh at herself.

The first SHE in Macedonia, SHE.Leads, featured Valentina Disoska, President of the Association of Businesswomen in Macedonia. Valentina told how difficult it is for Macedonian women to even approach the glass ceiling. She is currently driving the dialogue to amend labor legislation to allow women to hold leadership positions and to become entrepreneurs. This event drew a big audience, including a consular to the President of Macedonia. Ms. Disoka was very generous in spirit and lingered until late in the evening talking with guests. Symphony Solutions conducted 3 more SHE events in spring and summer.

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