How to foster female entrepreneurship and leadership in a country where women represent only 10% of the top-management staff? How to encourage women to make the first step towards economic independence? These were the topics of the conference “A Change with Velvet Gloves”, organised by Forbes Magazine Bulgaria and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, together with the Forbes Women Society, on 10 May in Sofia, Bulgaria.  The event gathered together over 70 female top managers from various business fields with the aim of elaborating an approach for a broader women`s involvement in business through networking and experience sharing.

 

Even in a country like Bulgaria, where inclusion of both genders in all areas of life and society has historically been a cultural trait, and where the traditional patriarchal structures have lost their grounds long time ago, women are still highly underrepresented in business. Whereas the average share of women on top management positions in the European Union reaches 30%, in Bulgaria women represent only 10% of the management staff of the biggest businesses and business associations. “That means, women experience tremendous challenges and there is still a long way to go, even in an open society like ours,” remarked Yordan Mateev, Editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine Bulgaria, at the event`s opening. Mateev continued that “empowerment and granting equal opportunities for all should remain a top priority. For men and women alike.”

Yordan Mateev, Editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine Bulgaria: “We believe that not only politicians, but rather entrepreneurs can make a change. A change towards a better world.”

 

Key Factors for Success

Is it high time for a change of the established social relationships, or women`s empowerment lies deeply in their own attitudes and understanding? According to the participants in the panel discussion, they go hand in hand with each other and add to the complexity of the on-going trend. First and foremost, however, “one needs to be well educated and well prepared to be a role model, regardless of the gender,” stressed Svetla Kostadinova, who, for nine years now, has been leading the most successful economic think tank in the country – the Institute for Market Economics. “With this being fundamental, personal character comes next and builds up true leaders. To be able to take in others` opinions, to respect them, and to learn from them is crucial,” commented Milena Dencheva, Executive Director of LIDL Bulgaria. In today`s world of challenges and rapid changes, it is of utmost importance to acknowledge the role of women and their potential. A better environment should be created, to allow women to independently seek for life-work balance.

Participants in the event

Participants in the event

On the other hand, despite the underlined dominance of men in business, the ambience itself does not hinder, but, to a significant extent, encourages women’s involvement – this was also made clear during the discussion. The country`s economic growth could unleash tremendous possibilities for women to harness their economic potential. And this is how role models could make the change with velvet gloves. Presenting good examples and fostering motivation and self-confidence, while transferring first hand experience is the very core of women`s empowerment.

 Genoveva Hristova, Founder and Executive Director of Ligna Group: “You should never be fully satisfied with your achievements, but always strive for achieving higher goals.

 

Interview with Genoveva Hristova, Founder and Executive Director of Ligna Group

Interview with Genoveva Hristova, Founder and Executive Director of Ligna Group

Let Us Talk Openly and Set Goals

In a personal interview, Genoveva Hristova revealed how to put all this into practice. Founding and running one of the largest furniture and design companies in Europe for more than twelve years, Ms Hristova succeeded in a men-dominated business area and shattered well-established stereotypes. Being a highly competitive and at the same time an adaptive person, her wholehearted strife for higher goals has turned her into one of the best role models for entrepreneurial spirit. “So many businesses and people are full of promise, sometimes all they need is just a little encouragement,” appealed Ms Hristova at the end of her inspirational success story.

World Café session

World Café session

 

In the interactive final part of the event, all participants were involved in a practical exercise aiming to identify the best ways of women`s empowerment and step-by-step approach towards economic independence. A set of discussions about motivation and education, the role of men, as well as about overcoming the envy of other women`s success, it concluded that there is a lack of an exchange of knowledge and best practices among women at the beginning of their professional career. To assist the achievement of this ultimate goal, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the Forbes Magazine in Bulgaria committed themselves to investing further efforts in various collaboration initiatives.