AUBG celebrated International Women’s Day, March 8, with four outstanding examples of leaders who gathered for a panel discussion in Elieff Center. The event was devoted to the lessons they learned in their respective careers and fields, as well as the knowledge and advice they could share with AUBG students, alumni, and friends. The organizers, CIDC at AUBG and the Development Office, chose the home of AUBG’s Executive MBA program which has been inspiring leaders for the past 20 years. Supported by the AUBG Alumni Association and the generous donation of former AUBG President and aspiring female leader Julia Watkins, the event brought together alumni from different classes who joined the networking part to discuss further the concept of equity and how it could be achieved.
The panelists were representatives of the corporate, startup, and nonprofit worlds. They shared the personal lessons they have learned on the leadership journey but also gave insights on the broader institutional-level change and how it could be achieved. The moderator of the event was Business professor Elena Radeva, who led the guests and the audience to open up their horizons.
Mina Dimitrova, Director of EMEA Central Go-To-Market at Google, presented her perspective as a leader who has been in a corporation for 13 years and has been following the efforts that the company has put to promote equity. “The dynamic when you see duo-working families versus one-working parent and a stay-at-home partner is completely different,” Dimitrova said. And that can be perceived as ‘Well this person is more serious and persistent about their job because they are here all the time, while the other person just left at 4 p.m. to attend a school activity’.”
“And I am lucky because Google has been a very forward-looking company and we are working on gender equality for many years there is more that should be done but you can feel it in your daily life. And that is where you learn that the most important decision you make as a woman in your career is the partner you choose.”
Svetla Baeva (’08), Campaigns Director at Fina Acts, presented the challenges in front of the nonprofit sector to put socially important topics on the agenda. “The nonprofit sector is highly feminized,” Baeva said. “About 70 percent of the people who work in the sector are women. If you are doing advocacy, lobbying or you are trying to change legislation, you need to go face-to-face with legislators which is a male-dominated field. So there have been cases where you go into the room and they are waiting for the man to enter.”
“Because the nonprofit is a highly feminized sector works on the crucial for the society solution, these things get dismissed and avoided and considered to be of secondary importance. So I think that discrimination is not something you feel at a general level but in these specific situations.”
Dina Jebali (EMBA ’23), Director Managed Services at Yettel Bulgaria, motivated the audience to go beyond what is considered characteristics of their sex. “I was acting like a boy and I was playing only with boys,” Jebali said. “It took me a lot of time to understand what it means to be a woman and to take care of myself, to love myself, and accept myself. Many ladies think that they have to act like men in order to succeed in the world we live in.”
“And this is totally wrong because men and women, have a lot of characteristics that the opposite sex doesn’t have. I am not saying that one or the other is better. I am saying that we are different and the right approach is for every one of us to use these specific characteristics in order all of us to make our own journey in this world.”
Valentina Milanova, Founder & CEO at Daye, works on raising awareness about the female challenges that are larger than taking the role of a mother.
“Every company should have well-defined policies on health experiences as part of the staff book,” Milanova said.
“So much of the female experience at work just focuses on having children while there is a whole other universe that explores whether you are even able to get out of bed in the morning. This is why women should be able to get the rule book and know what to do whenever they don’t feel comfortable. 90% of women have menstrual pain which often can be compared to a heart attack and for very long it was being treated as something that could be treated but this might not be the case.”
“Today, there are more women in leadership positions than ever before,” said the Alumni Affairs Manager Martina Vezenkova. “Nonetheless, the leadership gap, as a result of the prejudices and obstacles faced by female leaders, continues to limit their development and influence within their respective fields of expertise. Throughout the organization and execution of the “Lessons in Leadership” event, we wanted to demonstrate that successful leadership is not a gender-driven trait but a well-developed set of personal and professional characteristics.”
The Director of CIDC, Tihomira Doncheva shared that the idea behind this event was to celebrate women and to talk about the importance of this celebration and all of the initiatives that attract awareness during this month. “We didn’t want to just tell everybody that we were doing something special for the day,” Tihomira said. “So instead, we decided to invite women who have really succeeded in their areas of work and life, who have broken the glass ceiling in their lives, and together with them to tell the story of how women’s equity can be built. A lot of people in Bulgaria think that there is sexual equality, so with this panel, we wanted to highlight the difference between equality and equity and how every part of our life is different.”