Women in Ukraine’s IT Industry: Leading Teams Through Adversity – Insights from HR Professionals at AnvilEight, Playwing, and Yael Acceptic

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The stories of HR leaders within the Kharkiv IT Cluster are a testament to resilience in Ukraine’s tech sector. Despite numerous challenges, these companies have successfully maintained team productivity. The entire Ukrainian IT industry stands as a symbol of unwavering determination, with individuals, teams, and their collaborative efforts shining through even during turbulent times.

To support small and medium-sized companies that have had to partially relocate their teams involuntarily, the “IT Cluster in the Cloud” project was launched in July 2023, backed by the USAID Competitive Economy Program of Ukraine. Through collaboration and a united community effort, the Kharkiv IT Cluster has more than doubled in size since February 24, 2023, now comprising 270 companies and partners, demonstrating the resilience of their teams even amid partial relocations.
Today, as part of this project, we explore the stories of remarkable women who have been responsible for nurturing their teams, providing motivation, and managing overall stress levels. These HR professionals come from IT companies within the Kharkiv IT Cluster — AnvilEight, Yael Acceptic, and Playwing.

  • Armine Loboiko serves as an HR Generalist, HR Specialist, and Business Strategist at AnvilEight, a company specializing in Python and Django development, offering comprehensive web and mobile development, data analysis, and UI/UX design services.
  • Olga Vasilets is the HR Director at Playwing, an independent game developer, and publisher.
  • Vlada Shvedkina is the HR Manager at Yael Acceptic, a firm specializing in software development across .NET, Java, PHP, mobile devices, C++, Scala, and JavaScript.

Preserving Teams in Challenging Times

Armine Loboyko, HR at AnvilEight, recalls the initial days of the full-scale invasion:

“When it all began, at 6 in the morning, I found myself in the office, collecting laptops. Strangely, it felt like the top priority, something I needed to do. Not buying groceries or tending to my family’s needs, but gathering laptops. I even found it frustrating that ‘Ukrposhta’ wasn’t functioning. How could it not work when it was so urgently required? It’s ironic because mentally, we weren’t prepared, despite the fact that our country had been in a state of war for 8 years,” Armine reflects.

One of the first changes within the team was the introduction of team meetings. This shift wasn’t driven by the transition to remote work or a desire for excessive control; rather, it stemmed from the leadership’s genuine concern for the physical and emotional well-being of their colleagues:

“I was deeply touched that, in the early days of the war, our male colleagues reached out not just to address their own concerns. They inquired about our well-being, whether we had managed to leave, and if we needed assistance. It was a sincere display of care from our male colleagues towards the female members of our team. I don’t know how it happened, how we built such an incredible team, but the concern our male colleagues showed for us was remarkable,” Armine adds.

For instance, at AnvilEight, there was a female accountant who initially hesitated to leave due to the significant number of documents she couldn’t abandon. However, the male colleagues at the company consistently presented her with various options and motivations to encourage her to leave the perilous city.

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“I believe that women in the IT world are more protected than in other fields because the IT sector is more conscious. The basic needs of IT professionals are met, allowing them to think more broadly than those who must labor strenuously to earn a living. Consequently, their mindset enables them to not only be concerned about the problems within their immediate circle but also about their colleagues. Therefore, I won’t complain on this front; we have remarkable colleagues,” Armine concludes

Playwing, an organization rooted in international origins, maintains its primary headquarters in France and England. Even prior to the eruption of a full-scale war, discussions concerning a possible invasion were in progress. The French management had already been contemplating various forms of financial support for Ukrainian professionals to facilitate their relocation.

Some individuals had the opportunity to participate in this initiative, while others were in the midst of planning their departures when the major conflict suddenly unfolded. Olga Vasilets, HRD at Playwing, vividly recalls those initial days:

“And then the war began. I remember how, in those early days, our accountant and I were frantically searching for an internet connection while on the road, just to transfer funds to our people. Our goal was to fully address their needs and provide financial assistance for their relocation,” recounts Olga Vasilets.

Leaving the country during those times was an incredibly daunting task, regardless of the financial resources available. Playwing joined forces with other IT companies, including GlobalLogic, to provide support. The initial weeks passed amidst chronic stress and uncertainty, with limited communication during travel. By the third week, the company had managed to restore all its operational processes:

“We understood that if we didn’t resume work immediately, the existence of our Ukrainian office would be jeopardized. So, amid the ongoing war, the foreign management continued to support us and pledged to do so as long as we continue working and delivering results,” notes Olga.

Challenges persisted not only during the initial weeks of the war but also in the ongoing reality. Olga recollects a recent incident in which one of their Lviv-based employees found herself without a home due to an attack. Playwing’s team promptly stepped in, providing assistance with equipment and other essential necessities for their colleague.

Many women left the country, often without their husbands. On one hand, they needed to continue their work and career advancement to secure a higher income, given the different financial landscape abroad. On the other hand, they were burdened with additional responsibilities in various aspects of life. Many women found themselves as the sole providers for their families, as their husbands were either defending the country, had lost stable offline jobs due to the war, or had relocated.

“With these changes, women have taken on leadership roles within their families. I believe that the focus and role of women in society are evolving. This is our new reality, and we must adapt,” comments Olga.

Vlada Shvedkina, for instance, relocated abroad. All the familiar processes underwent significant changes—live communication became scarce, replaced by challenges such as adapting to different time zones and grappling with communication difficulties.

Yael Acceptic initiated comprehensive assistance to those in need from the very beginning of the war. Their focus was primarily on those who remained in Ukraine, as they were more vulnerable to the events unfolding around them. For team members who left the country, a different set of challenges emerged, including adjusting to a new environment and grappling with feelings of survivor’s guilt.

“But one thing is certain: we all needed psychological support. That’s why in our company, we introduced personal anonymous sessions for anyone who felt the need for them,” shares Vlada.

Regarding the challenges faced by women in the company, relocation was a significant issue. Vlada, for example, left the country while her team remained in Ukraine. This presented challenges in organizing work processes and maintaining effective communication:

“How do you organize the workflow when you understand that your team is facing extremely challenging conditions? Of course, the pandemic had already accustomed us to remote work, but these were entirely different circumstances,” highlights Vlada.

Therefore, Vlada believes that the most crucial skill for Ukrainians now is the ability to adapt rapidly to changes over which they have limited control. They must continue working, communicating, and advocating for the necessity to adapt quickly to new circumstances; otherwise, life, work, and business will remain in a state of pause.

Stories of Team Evolution in Ukrainian Tech Companies

At Playwing, there has never been a clear-cut division when it comes to exclusively hiring either women or men. The team has always focused on knowledge, soft skills, hard skills, technical expertise, and how individuals adapt and conduct themselves within the team, as well as their sense of responsibility towards their work.

“Currently, we have 70% men and 30% women on our team. If we track the trend, the percentage of women increases each year. I remember being the only woman in our team at one point, and I didn’t particularly like it. But now, on one of our leading projects, it’s an all-female team, and I can say it’s a winning combination,” states one of Playwing’s team members.

In addition to developers, other roles within the company include managers, recruiters, HR professionals, accountants, and testers. While there are female developers, men still make up the majority of technical roles.

Olga, a team member at Playwing, believes that women have not found it more challenging to secure jobs after the onset of the war. In fact, she sees women as being more adaptable. Some of their female colleagues even had the opportunity to work abroad during the winter when there were power supply issues.

At Yael Acceptic, the percentage of women in the company stands at 25% of the total workforce. Vlada admits that the percentage used to be higher due to administrative positions. However, when focusing exclusively on technical specialties, the number of women in these roles has been significantly increasing year by year.

Technical specialties at the company are predominantly held by women in roles such as QA professionals, business analysts, designers, project managers, and client communication managers. When it comes to non-technical roles like HR, recruiting, and marketing, they maintain a balance, valuing skills, goals, and motivation.

Armine, who has been with Anvileight for five years, has never encountered the practice of selecting professionals based on gender. The company adheres to clear rules and criteria for evaluating candidates, with gender not being a factor.

The company has experience in training interns from various backgrounds. According to Armine, female interns tended to be more diligent, while male interns often approached their work more casually.

Armine believes that women have a strong desire to prove themselves and can excel equally or even better than men in various roles. Currently, about 10% of Anvileight’s employees are women, primarily occupying creative positions such as designers and recruiters. Armine attributes this distribution to women being more adaptable and willing to switch jobs for personal and professional growth.

Armine also believes that women excel in time management, as many of them must balance childcare, household responsibilities, and work. Having recently become a mother herself, she plans her work ahead to align with her child’s schedule without compromising on quality.

Moreover, Armine notes that women tend to have stronger English language skills, especially when continuous communication is required during the work process. However, their technical skills might be slightly lower than those of men. This can be attributed to women either lacking a technical education and acquiring coding skills independently or being relatively new to the IT field.
According to Olga Vasilets, women are generally more communicative, flexible, and patient in the workplace. From her experience, conflicts involving women at work are rare, while men may be less inclined to choose their words carefully and seek compromises.

Furthermore, women tend to be more loyal to their workplace, valuing comfort and workplace relationships more than men, who often prioritize financial and career opportunities. When a woman decides to leave her regular job, it is often a well-considered decision.

In summary, gender diversity is gradually increasing in Ukrainian tech companies, with women demonstrating adaptability, strong communication skills, and a commitment to their workplace. These qualities make them valuable assets in a rapidly evolving industry.

Women in IT: Exceptional Abilities that Shape and Sustain the Industry

Drawing from personal experience, Vladislava firmly believes that women in the IT field possess remarkably developed communication skills, irrespective of their roles, whether it be as a QA specialist or a recruiter.

“We’ve observed that men tend to switch jobs more frequently; it comes naturally to them. In contrast, women often approach such decisions with more contemplation. This is why, on average, women tend to stay longer in companies than men.”

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Could this inclination be tied to the perception that women might face greater challenges in securing new IT positions? Vladislava thinks so, given the influence of societal stereotypes. Furthermore, women excel at identifying strengths even in situations where opportunities seem limited. They build strong connections during their tenure in a company, making it challenging to sever ties even when it’s time to seek further professional growth.

“I believe this rings true. We all remember those stereotypes that suggest women should be grateful once they secure a job, as they could act unpredictably. Certain fears, I believe, exist among those who do the hiring,” she suggests.

In Olga’s view, women are more adept at communication, adaptability, and patience. Drawing from her own experiences, she posits that when conflicts arise, men are less inclined to carefully choose their words and seek compromises compared to women, for whom a composed approach to issue resolution is essential.

“In my professional experience, I’ve never encountered workplace disputes involving women, whereas incidents have occurred among men, including the use of inappropriate language and other such issues. Therefore, I believe flexibility is a quality more frequently observed in women,” Olga remarks.

Furthermore, women are often found to be more loyal to their workplaces, placing greater emphasis on comfort and workplace relationships compared to men, who often prioritize financial and career opportunities. When a woman decides to leave her regular job, it is often a well-considered and thoughtful decision.

According to Armine, women excel at time management, as many of them must effectively juggle childcare, household responsibilities, and work. Having recently become a mother herself, she diligently plans her work to align with her child’s schedule without compromising on quality.

Additionally, Armine points out that women typically have stronger English language skills, particularly when consistent communication is required during the work process. However, their technical skills might be slightly less developed than those of men, which can be attributed to women either lacking a technical education and acquiring coding skills independently or being relatively new to the IT field.

Retaining Talent to Enhance IT Company Brands

Human capital undeniably stands as the most valuable asset and driver of progress in the modern technology sector. As IT continues to reshape the world, it is impossible to imagine its existence without the contributions of creative, talented, and experienced professionals. This underscores the significance of people as the bedrock and catalyst for success in this sector.

Human capital also plays a pivotal role in ensuring stability and progress within the industry. Hence, HR leaders in IT, particularly women, wield the unique ability to educate, adapt, sustain knowledge, inspire, and bolster the employer brands of IT companies.

HR Community Kharkiv IT Cluster consistently creates opportunities for HR experts and professionals, including women, to exchange ideas and share case studies, thereby nurturing fresh opportunities for employer brand development and the implementation of industry trends.

Every account from HR leaders and recruiters underscores what fortifies the tech industry and enhances its competitive edge from within. These stories illuminate the resilience of businesses during challenging times, with their efforts, talent, and dedication serving as the driving force behind innovation and change in the modern world.

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