The University Vice-Rector Elena Chernova schedules every minute of her day. Arranging a meeting with her is therefore not at all easy. Yet it is worth it as conversations with her are always irresistibly engaging. On the eve of International Women’s Day, she gave an interview to the magazine St Petersburg University. She told us about her source of inspiration and shared her views on whether achieving professional success was easy for women in the 21st century.
Ms Chernova has been building her career both in research and management at St Petersburg University. She followed a career path from being a postgraduate student at the Department of Sector-Specific Economy at Leningrad State University to holding the top-management position at the oldest university in Russia. She received a number of job offers from other institutions. Even so, she has remained faithful to her alma mater.
Ms Chernova, our society is heading towards demolishing gender stereotypes, especially at work. Do you think that moving up a career ladder was more difficult, say, 20 or 30 years ago?
In our time, for women to achieve professional success meant that they should know a lot more than men. You had to go beyond just being on a par with men in terms of professional competences and expertise you had gained. Even if you were equal in importance or quality, men were mostly preferred over women in hiring or getting admitted to universities. However, there was a turning point. Today much depends on the manager, I suppose. This definitely resulted in good for our University. The Rector has always been far from being guided by gender stereotypes in making decisions at work.
Although today both young men and women are exposed to a much wider pool of opportunities, moving up a career ladder is becoming more and more difficult for them. Unlike the young generation, we did have confidence in tomorrow. We knew for certain that graduating from the University guaranteed you being hired. Possibly, initially it was not the job of your dreams, yet hard work would definitely lead us to what we were eager to achieve.
Today both young men and women have no confidence in tomorrow. Graduating from a university is not a guarantee of being able to find a job easily. This is not due to the fact that we have given up the practice of allocating graduates to available jobs. Rather, the world is changing more rapidly than ever before. What you learnt during the first year at a university may well be outdated by the time you are supposed to get your master’s degree. Obviously, some things are fundamental and remain stable over a period of time. Yet the rest is changing incredibly rapidly. We are constantly obtaining new scientific data. New areas of research are appearing as are new professions. Psychologically, keeping up with the pace is arduous. It is difficult both for men and women, regardless of sex, as both men and women face the same challenges. Additionally, we have absolutely different criteria of what is professional success. For example, working at a university, even on the lowest positions, used to be prestigious. Today, the situation is different.
What character traits helped you to start your career? What traits help you at work today?
Initially it was my natural curiosity and spirit of inquiry that inspired me to start a career at the University. I was enthusiastic to do many things at once. I understood that I did not have enough time for everything. So scheduling was important as was getting everything done.
Today, being able to collaborate with an enormous number of people helps me a lot. I think I have an extensive experience in communicating with various people. Yet, probably, I am not as good as I could be at using what I have gained so far. Even so, I am convinced that being able to listen to what other people have to say and what arguments they have must be a very high priority in each level of management. If you are not able or willing to do so, you are far from being highcalibre, even if you have successfully gained all necessary hard skills and competences.
You must be at times exhausted from the avalanche of enquiries and appointments at work. How do you recharge?
I just adore spending time with my friends and beloved ones. I also love nature. I am fond of planting flowers in my garden. It is a passion of mine. No matter how tired I am, in spring and summer I will go to my garden in the country once a week to take care of my flowers and plants. Even if I have to return in a couple of hours, I will definitely plant, weed, or feed something. Then I have to go back as I am incredibly short of time.
How do you manage to be in a good shape as you hardly ever have rest?
In my view, you shouldn’t see your work as a cross you have to bear. Your work is part of your life. Today, my life is scheduled in one way. Sometime will pass, and probably my life will be different. What you are doing now may change into something else in the future. You should live in the here and now. And this inspires me a lot.
For a full version of the interview please refer to the coming issue of St Petersburg University.