Anahide Pilibossian began by speaking of her job at Blackrock. The nature of the organization was peculiar, she said, pointing out that it was not a bank, as is sometimes mistakenly assumed, but an institutional investor, that today employs between 12 and 13 thousand people. Ms Pilibossian described her involvement with international organizations, specifying that she engaged with them on issues of financial regulation. There exists a gap in policymakers’ thinking in that they frequently fail to consider the average saver; her role, then, is to remedy this gap. Her work also extends, she related, to relations between shareholders and listed companies. The diversity of her daily tasks is impressive: drafting responses to the British government, analysing legal texts and their impact on organisations, and preparing briefs are all part of her work routine.
Anahide also passed on advice on promotions, how best to obtain them – just ask! –, and why, should such efforts fall short, being disheartened misses the point: she highlighted that promotions are often the product of great luck, being in the right place at the right time, and being liked by the right people. In her case, she was fortunate enough to get on well with her boss and thus to be recommended by them when a higher-ranking position opened up.
Large v small firms:
She also suggested that there are clear upsides to working at a large corporation instead of a small firm: Blackrock, for instance, is a multi-national, multi-cultural working environment, with significant resources to spend on its employees. Small businesses, by contrast, would struggle financially to invest as much on its human resources. Moreover, the corporate world is generally more generous in its terms for paid maternity leave, also a result of their bigger spending on human capital. Anahide felt the professionalism and etiquette of large firms to be unique.
Graziella Piga then followed, starting her own tale with a synopsis of her education. Ms Piga graduated from Bologna University with an MA in Russian Studies. Her expertise in all things Russian, in particular the language, made her fit to work at just about any import/export companies, as the USSR was in the midst of disintegrating. To her MA qualification she added a vocational course on gender and development at Oxford Brookes University. Graziella’s university experience turned exciting as her research took her places; her study of women and micro-finance, for instance, brought her to Belgrade. In the wake of this, Graziella went to work at UNHCR’s protection unit, set up for protecting female refugees and countering gender trafficking. Her job oversaw the fascinating link between policy and practice. Moving to Macedonia, she worked with OCS on women’s security, where she led a big push for reform of the Police Department. Graziella probed prevailing views on how to improve women’s security. Solely helping women while ignoring men did not make for a lasting solution, she pointed out; for that to be true, men had to be involved in some capacity too, such that they might have an understanding of and real stake in the issue.
The importance of languages:
Graziella noted the increasing centrality of languages in international organisations. Knowing Russian, for instance, opened up lots of options for Graziella while she worked for UNHCR in Tajikistan. By speaking Russian, she was able to reach out to and build useful links with the Interior Ministry, where previous mission leaders had not thought, or been ill-equipped, to do so.
Admittedly, there are certainly challenges that women specifically face. The challenge of being a mother as well as a full-time professional is a high burden, or at least seems so until, in time, a balance is found. Other concerns may arise, as Graziella soon found, around the best interests of your child – the education system in the country in which you are working may be unreliable – and the attitudes and opportunities afforded to women in that country; strong patriarchal cultures may be yet another push factor in changing one’s job/lifestyle.