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What prevents women from holding high positions - opinion of Nazarbayev University expert

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What prevents women from holding high positions - opinion of Nazarbayev University expert

Nazarbayev University Professor Jenifer Lewis spoke about her research on gender stereotypes in Kazakhstan and shared her opinion on what prevents women from holding high positions in the country. According to the NU scientist, in addition to the basic barriers, Kazakhstani women in business have an unexpected advantage over their Western counterparts, Tengrinews.kz reports. 

Jenifer Lewis, Associate professor at the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business, devoted her research to women's leadership. She admitted that there is hardly a country with no gender-based barriers to improving the status of women in their workplaces. So Kazakhstan, she said, is no exception in this regard. 

"I was surprised that most women in Kazakhstan pursue their career goals. Of course, a woman is expected to get married, raise children, and have a happy family, but she is also expected to go to work. Thinking back, I realized that I had to understand how much the Soviet legacy exists in society. But because I looked at Kazakhstan from the cultural point of view, I didn't expect women to be pressured here if they don't work," said Nazarbayev University professor . 

The study is not yet complete. So far, Lewis has only interviewed English-speaking Kazakh women. She admitted that she could miss an important cross-section of society, so in the future she plans to continue her work in Russian and Kazakh languages. 

The Professor divided gender-based stereotypes into three levels. 

Cultural or macro-level, when women have limitations in the education or career choices, there are societal constrains on women and men that “all women should have children”, or “all women should be married by the time they 25”. Or, for example, the same baby dressed in pink would be addressed as “so precious and so delicate” and dressed in blue as “tough guy, big baby boy”; 
Discrimination ion the workplace or meso-level, when at job interview women are asked about her plans for getting married or give birth, and based on these answers the employer makes a decision on hiring; 
Personal problems of women or micro-level, when the family responsibilities are opposed to the professional responsibilities. 

Professor Lewis has been living in Kazakhstan since 2011, according to her all three levels present in our society. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the scientist had to interrupt research, so it is too early to draw conclusions, but according to her, COVID-19 and the quarantine only exacerbated the problems of discrimination. 

“In quarantine both husband and wife are working remotely, but it is most likely a woman who deals with children. I think in two years we'll see the results of this work from home where we have fewer women who have been promoted because they don't have the work to show for it. Because they've had to deal with kids at home and it is impossible to do everything at once. And people are being promoted on the basis of the work that they do,” - said Professor Lewis. 

Though Kazakhstani women have a surprising advantage. 

"An interesting thing is the family support that women in Kazakhstan feel. Such strong support simply does not exist in the United States. Kazakhstani women can leave their children with parents and their parents will raise them, to some extent helps them to find a balance, so that they can have their professional responsibilities but also have their family. That's why I feel that micro-level barriers in Kazakhstan are more of a delay to their promotion in the workplace," the professor believes. 

One of the possible serious consequences of stereotypes impact, according to the scientist, is the high divorce rates in the country. 

“There is a kind of standard for women in Kazakhstan - to married and have children by 25 years old, otherwise they are pressured a lot. Many of them get married to meet those expectations. Divorce rates in Kazakhstan are incredibly high. And I can't help but think that this is one of the contributing factors and that is pressure on women to perform their female responsibilities. They do it. They check that box off and then they say, now it's my turn. They get a divorce and they go back to their work and they put all the efforts into their work,” explains Jenifer Lewis. Of course there are many other factors that contribute to divorce, and perhaps this societal pressure is one of them. This is an area that requires additional research. 

Can we change anything in the society? 

According to the scientist, even legislative amendments will change little drastically: it is not enough just to change the law and expect people to change as well. 

“These changes should be in all three levels. For example on cultural level there should be redefining what it means to be a woman in Kazakhstan or to be feminine or masculine,” notes Lewis 

First step, according to her, is that people would start noticing gender-based stereotypes and admit that they exist.  

Lewis questioned the applicability of western leadership models to Kazakhstan. She believes that leadership literature of western gurus do not always work here. Eastern models of Japan or Korea are also not suitable. According to her, Kazakhstan is a unique country that is equally influenced by Western and Eastern cultures, as well as the Soviet past. And in order to develop its model of doing business, it is necessary to study the interaction within Kazakh society in detail. 

Original article available here