Women: Unwavering Forces in Ukraine’s Tech Industry

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In the midst of the harsh realities of war, where the country is facing trials and defending its independence, it becomes crucial to be exceptionally efficient and adaptable. This is why women in the IT sector are emerging as pivotal figures capable of significantly strengthening and even reshaping the technological landscape.

Despite the formidable external challenges, Ukrainian IT companies in today’s global market often set new standards for innovation and create unique service and product solutions, drawing from their extensive expertise.

The Ukrainian tech market, equipped with highly skilled professionals, a unique capacity for adaptability, and all the prerequisites for playing a central role in Ukraine’s post-war economic recovery.

Superpowers of Ukraine’s Tech Sector

However, on February 24, 2023, the life of IT companies was divided into ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Due to the impossibility of key specialists leaving the country within IT firms and negative media portrayals regarding Ukraine’s stability, foreign companies grew more cautious about entering into agreements with Ukrainian suppliers.

The significance of communication with clients, building remote relationships with partners, and the ability to adapt swiftly to unforeseen circumstances has undergone a substantial transformation.

Some aspects not only remained unchanged but also showcased their ability to provide support, reinforce, and assist. This applies to unity and community.

Kharkiv IT Cluster serves as a prime example illustrating how a community can thrive and bolster itself, even during times of conflict. The necessity to support and safeguard the interests of small and medium-sized companies that partially and involuntarily relocated their teams led to the inception of the “IT Cluster in the Cloud” project in the summer of 2023, supported by the USAID Competitive Economy Program of Ukraine.

The most effective way to gain experience and apply it to one’s own company is through case studies and personal accounts from leaders. As such, we are launching a series featuring remarkable stories from female leaders of IT companies who are members of Kharkiv IT Cluster. This initiative aims to unveil the extraordinary impact of women as driving forces within Ukraine’s IT industry.

First Participants in the Project: CEO Telesens Olesya Ulyanova and CTO at ABNK Premium Systems Alina Shapovalova.

Olesya Ulyanova has been serving as the CEO of Telesens since 2019. Telesens is a product company specializing in the professional development and implementation of industrial software solutions, primarily for telecommunications operators, since 1998.

Alina Shapovalova holds the position of CTO at ABNK Premium Systems, a software development company focused on creating digital solutions in the fields of HealthTech, AgriTech, EdTech, and Sports.

Unwavering Strength

Amidst the challenging backdrop of war and the need to defend national independence, women leaders in the IT industry have emerged as an indomitable force capable of swift and adaptive responses. The ability to engage in direct and in-person communication during overseas business trips has enabled them to maintain existing client relationships and forge new ones, even in times of conflict.

Telesens stands out with its non-traditional gender balance. As of the first quarter of 2023, women make up 38% of the company’s workforce. The top management paints an even more interesting picture with a balanced gender distribution.

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“At Telesens, we hire individuals based on their competencies, irrespective of gender, age, or any other specific criteria. Competence is paramount. We have a competency matrix, and individuals either meet the requirements for a position or they do not,” emphasizes Olesya.

In the discussion, Olesya shared that the company places equal importance on competencies, whether for technical or non-technical roles. Among positions that are more commonly held by women, approximately 50% of Business Analysts are women. Women also comprise a significant portion of Project Managers due to their flexibility, proficiency in English, and excellent communication skills with clients – qualities highly valued in this role. Furthermore, HR and recruiting roles predominantly feature women. Additionally, there is a substantial presence of women in design and frontend positions.

Alina Shapovalova from ABNK Premium Systems stresses that in any company, the most critical factor is the individual, encompassing both their hard and soft skills. Currently, approximately 25% of the workforce at ABNK Premium Systems consists of women. The inability for some individuals to travel abroad for conferences or work meetings due to recent circumstances can also be considered an advantage for women.

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“I would be delighted to see more women joining our team because women inevitably contribute a unique atmosphere to the workplace, and that is indeed a positive aspect,” shares Alina.”

The Phenomenon of Women in IT: Harnessing Their Superpowers

One of the key points emphasized by Olesya Ulyanova is the ability to fearlessly embrace new challenges in the face of rapid change and stress. She highlights that this trait is equally relevant to both men and women, and it often becomes a fundamental issue in decision-making processes.

“This even applies to men in top management positions. Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations where we need to persuade others, while at other times, as I like to say, we simply ‘make CEO decisions’ – in other words, we take decisive action. In times of swift change and stress, there is no luxury of prolonged deliberation. The world has already moved forward while we were still debating what to do,” she asserts.

Olesya’s insight underscores the critical importance of adaptability and decisiveness, regardless of gender or position, especially in the context of fast-paced transformations and high-pressure situations. In such environments, the ability to swiftly embrace change and take action can be a defining factor for success.

The Adaptability of Women in IT

Women in leadership positions display exceptional adaptability to changes in the IT sector during wartime. They can swiftly respond to new challenges, formulate strategies, and adapt business processes to ensure the stability of their companies.

Alina Shapovalova, the CTO at ABNK Premium Systems, reflects on how the initial anxiety within her team transformed into unity. From the very outset of the full-scale invasion, team members looked out for one another, creating a remarkable sense of solidarity that provided essential support during those uncertain days.

“But, you know, could it have been any different? Indeed, at the start of the war, we strongly felt that we were one, that we were a single organism,” Alina remarks.

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Olesya Ulyanova has her own secret to explain the adaptability of women in the IT sector, even amid the crisis conditions of 2022-2023: persistence and diligence. Her company focused on honing technical skills and improving the “cleanliness” and quality of application code. An external audit revealed that women tend to write cleaner code, albeit taking more time for refactoring.

“Women in IT possess a systematic way of thinking. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage because they might not generate ideas quickly at a minimum acceptable quality level. However, when women develop a comprehensive vision, they execute tasks flawlessly (or nearly so),” explains Olesya.

Women often excel in communication skills, facilitating the building of relationships with clients, partners, and colleagues, particularly in times of crisis. This capacity for effective communication plays a pivotal role in supporting work teams and fostering a conducive work environment.

Alina Shapovalova believes that women are excellent communicators. They prioritize conflict resolution without escalation, seeking optimal solutions and methods to complete tasks. Consequently, teams with a balanced gender composition tend to experience fewer conflicts compared to those dominated by a single gender, be it male or female. This balance is indeed an advantage.

The Role of Women in Strengthening the IT Industry

Women in leadership positions contribute significantly to the growth of the IT sector in Ukraine during times of war. They bring fresh ideas, innovative approaches, and creative solutions that enhance the competitiveness of the country’s IT industry.

Olesya Ulyanova offers her perspective on what it takes to achieve continued success in IT: “Whether it sounds good or bad, women often need to excel far beyond their male counterparts to be considered equals. Junior female employees are welcomed, but to advance to managerial roles often requires significant effort. However, this ‘struggle’ fortifies women, making them competent and erasing their fears of failure. This is what drives the success of companies led by women.”

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The inclusion of women in leadership positions during crises underscores the importance of diversity within work teams. Differing perspectives and experiences contribute to more effective problem-solving and the generation of innovative ideas.

“In my experience, both as a manager and personally, living in Germany now, I can tell you that Ukrainian women are unique. Europeans may perceive us as having dual personalities because Ukrainian women can be both caretakers and successful businesswomen simultaneously. Regardless of our positions or salaries, we are simply successful women who do not grapple with issues of emancipation,” shares Olesya Ulyanova.

According to Alina Shapovalova, one need only look at women who have already achieved success in IT. The success of women in the technology sector is not a mere dream but a goal that demands belief and effort.

Shared Values Beyond Geographical Boundaries

Amidst turbulent times, Kharkiv IT Cluster stands as a testament to the strength that unity brings, allowing the community to collaborate on critical tasks, share ideas and experiences, and create a conducive environment for innovation and growth.

Women in Ukraine’s IT industry are genuine and resilient forces, transcending stereotypes, overcoming geographical constraints, and continuing to drive progress in the world of IT, regardless of the circumstances.

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