Where are all the women? We’re Half the Sky as but we’re always underrepresented as Catalyst reasearch points out (see my previous post titled International Women’s Day). The same is true for Eastern Europe, Russia and the rest of the CIS where only 2 women reached Forbes billionaire ranks out of some 40 or so total women on the 1,011 long list.
The richest in the region is Elena Baturina who returned to the list after a rebound in Russia; her net worth: $2.9 billion. The wife of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (who has been in power since 1992) runs Inteko which started out in furniture and crockery then moved into construction. Her real estate projects were hard hit by the 2008 financial crisis but she is back building affordable housing for Russia’s rising middle class. She also reportedly has interests in Africa, a continent where several CIS oligarchs are looking to expand. Though rumors swirl about favoritism in winning city contracts because of her family connections, nothing sticks; Baturina is aggressive about maintaining a clean reputation.
The other is Dinara Kulibaeva, the media-shy second daughter of Kazakhstan’s long-serving president Nursultan Nazarbaev and wife of Timur Kulibaev, also a billionaire and rumored to be a potential successor to Nazarbaev. She also returns to the Forbes billionaires list; her fortune is estimated at $1.1 billion resting on her shared stake in Halyk Bank which received hundreds of millions of dollars in bailout funds from the government post 2008/2009 financial crisis.
The common thread between the two is the connection to powerful men. Though the Soviet State introduced equal gender rights and formal equality under law and this should have been grandfathered into newly independent states, the theory has not always played out in practice. Some states in Central Asia (Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) have even taken steps backward since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union with discrimination against women rising.
Baturina and Kulibaeva are able to fend off discriminatory practices under the patronage of allies; Baturina is a formidable business woman in her own right. To date, there have been few opportunities for women to take power in the rough and tumble world of privatization and asset building that went on in countries like Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. I am more surprised by the dearth of women billionaires in Poland which has had a much more liberal economic system.
Though I don’t see any imminent female billionaires in my regional research (and hope I am proved wrong as I go along), I do see a generation inheriting that may pave the way for female entrepreneurs. One that stands out: Mounissa Chodieva, the daughter of Patokh Chodiev, whose wealth rests on Kazakhstan’s Eurasian Natural Resources. She is part of the investor relations team at the company, and was one of the driving forces behind the company’s listing and cleaning house in terms of governance. I was impressed by her dedication to the business when I met her several years ago.