ECWO: A view from inside: Olga Konovalova reflects on her ECWO experience
When Olga Konovalova came across ECWO’s LinkedIn page, she knew she had found exactly what she was looking for. A Master’s Degree graduate from Kiev’s National Food University, Konovalova had worked in the food industry for a decade and was searching for ways to progress her career, with a particular focus on understanding the gender issues that women in her industry are sometimes confronted with. Konovalova had also recently moved to the Netherlands with her daughter, to be with her Dutch husband, and so was looking for a network to connect with and ways of exploring her unceasing drive for self-learning – and she sensed that ECWO would help with all of these. Konovalova signed up for this year’s Communication with Power and Impact for Women programme and then went on to become the winner of an ECWO competition for a place on the Women in Leadership programme. We asked her about the value and impact of ECWO’s programmes on her work – and life.
You have attended two of ECWO’s programmes this year. What motivated you to sign-up?
I was so inspired when I first encountered the work that ECWO is doing. I had just moved to the Netherlands from Ukraine when I first came across the different programmes and I was immediately drawn to its focus on empowering women in our careers. I signed up for all ECWO’s social media platforms and the newsletter to keep in touch with the work that was being done in the area of career development and gender. I then found out that there was an evening of Masterclasses that would give me an introduction to ECWO’s programmes and so that was the first taste of what the programmes offer. I really loved hearing from the different experts in a relaxed and personal setting and then chatting to them afterwards. Arising out of that I decided to attend my first full programme.
That was Communication with Power and Impact for Women?
Yes. I felt it would be of such benefit to my professional and personal life that I actually saved up to pay for it myself. I work in an industry which is male dominated - especially in Netherlands where I soon realised that women product/process technologists are not as common. Having gone to the Masterclass run by Dory Grandia, I was certain that understanding and improving how to communicate in such a gender-imbalanced environment would be a great place to start. After that I was dreaming about taking the Women in Leadership Programme and was lucky enough to win a place in it.
Becoming part of the ECWO family
What was your experience of the organisation of the programmes, leading up to your attendance?
It really is excellent. I feel that once you sign-up and attend any one of ECWO’s offerings, whether a Masterclass or a programme, you become part of a family. And that doesn’t stop when the programmes are over because there are still more events to attend. Being an ECWO alumni has played an important part in building my community here in the Netherlands.
Was there a particular highlight for you?
There were many but one was the insights and tools that I gained around how to build my profile. I was at a stage in my career where I had worked very successfully in my industry for 10 years and I didn’t think that there was knowledge I could gain, tools I could use and steps I could take to really proactively progress my career. I thought that it would simply continue progressing because I’m good at my job. So getting a deep understanding of how to build my profile and also what my leadership style is has been invaluable. I also found the emphasis on networking to be powerful. Again I had thought of this as something that progresses organically but you have to do more and keep the momentum going if you want to progress in your career, especially as a woman.
Making an invisible world visible
Did you find the content of the Masterclasses and workshops engaging and informative?
I didn’t stop writing as I was listening! There were so many concrete tips and advice – not only for my working life, but my personal one too. I felt so empowered - whether it was learning about body language or how to respond to comments about looks in meetings, quickly get back to the business at hand and so fully take part on the decision making process. I really like the way that the team at ECWO also makes the world in which women operate in, within organisations, visible to us.
Are you finding the learnings easy to implement in your day-to-day work?
Actually, attending the ECWO courses empowered me to examine what I want from both my career and my life. I am soon to have my long-awaited second child and because of the tools and insights that I was afforded during the courses, I am taking a break from my career to decide where I want to go next. I will be using this time to pursue more knowledge and skills and have already signed up for several courses that will keep me up-to-date with production in the area of food. I am also going to grow my network and build my profile. Once I’m back working, I am sure I will be even more empowered to progress my career.
“ECWO programmes give you the key for everything”
Would you recommend the programme to other women - and why?
Yes, of course. The ECWO programmes give you power as a women and the feeling that you can find the key for everything. I wish all women in organisations could take the course. As someone working in the sciences, I like the fact that ECWO is based in research – that it’s not just about what we think about the gender imbalance in the workplace but what research has shown.
What is your view on the role of programmes like ECW’s in attaining gender balance in organisations?
I think it is very important. In fact, the courses really opened my eyes and, since then, I have done my own further reading on how gender equality benefits organisations and the importance of giving women more power and opportunity to reach positions of leadership. I hope that in future we live in a world where there is a gender balance in leadership, partly because of training programmes and organisations like ECWO.
The Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO) is committed to women’s continued advancement into leadership positions across multiple sectors – from multinationals and start-ups to not-for-profit organisations. ECWO supports gender-balanced leadership through its management education, research and events about gender equality, and by coaching female business leaders. Its strong network leads to women empowerment and gender equality to the benefit of business and society.