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When Sasha Bezuhanova joined Hewlett-Packard’s Bulgarian operation in 1997, pc specialists had been leaving the nation in droves. But she determined to remain, believing she might construct a profession in expertise and persuade different electronics graduates to do the identical.
Fifteen years later Ms Bezuhanova had risen by way of the ranks to run HP’s public sector enterprise in rising markets. As the primary Bulgarian to carry a senior administration place at a worldwide IT firm, she grew to become a job mannequin for a era of girls becoming a member of the sector.
“We now have plenty of feminine C-level managers within the digital trade. They’re very seen within the tech neighborhood and in society,” she says. “We even have rising numbers of feminine founders of start-ups.” Ms Bezuhanova left HP in 2013 to discovered Move.bg, a platform for social innovation.
Girls make up 44.6 per cent of the workforce within the nation’s booming expertise sector — the second-highest proportion within the EU after Lithuania. This compares with a mean of 32.four per cent for the bloc, based on Eurostat, the EU statistics company.
The Balkan nation’s excessive stage of feminine participation within the tech workforce is a legacy from the Soviet period, when the brightest college students attended specialist maths excessive faculties, says Rumyana Trencheva, managing director for south-east Europe at SAP, the German software program firm.
“The maths and all utilized sciences have at all times been of a excessive customary at these faculties, which choose equal numbers of girls and boys. Girls lecturers make maths accessible and encourage women to check pc science at college,” she says.
Underneath communism, feminine engineers and accountants belonged to an expert elite that 30 years later continues to be held in excessive regard, she provides.
“We had robust position fashions of working moms in these professions, and that influences ladies working within the tech sector now. They’re self-confident and don’t have doubts about whether or not they could make it to high positions.”
In 2014, Svetla Simidchieva, a former human sources supervisor at skilled providers agency PwC, teamed up with Ekaterina Mihaylova, a specialist in synthetic intelligence, to arrange a digital recruitment enterprise. Their start-up, Majio, makes use of machine studying to match candidates with jobs, and has merchandise geared toward US and central and japanese European firms.
The corporate was Bulgaria’s “Best AI Startup”within the 2017 Central European Beginup Awards, but Ms Simidchieva says the pair are generally coolly obtained by their male friends. “There’s a delicate type of bias in Bulgaria towards ladies operating tech firms, however it disappears with time. It’ll fade away with the subsequent era of entrepreneurs,” she says. Between 10 and 12 per cent of Bulgarian start-ups are based by ladies.
A drastic scarcity of expert tech staff, in the meantime, has pushed up salaries and helped increase the place of girls, particularly at massive firms.
There’s a delicate type of bias in Bulgaria towards ladies operating tech firms, however it disappears with time
Companies compete to supply advantages that attraction to feminine staff, says Albena Mancheva, nation supervisor at Foryouandyourcustomers, a Zurich-based digital transformation consultancy. “Employers have to supply advantages that permit for a greater work-life stability — versatile working hours, having the ability to do business from home, extra days of paid depart and extra healthcare masking households,” she says.
Rossen Ivanov, managing companion at BlackPeak Capital, an funding fund, says salaries at tech firms are actually so engaging that girls in lower-paid professions corresponding to instructing are retraining to qualify for jobs at outsourcing firms.
“The proof is anecdotal, however there’s a pattern,” he says. “It’s financially doable to make the swap since you don’t need to take a profession break and spend a number of years at college.”
Bulgarian ladies haven’t but carved out a distinct segment, nonetheless, at any of the half-dozen Sofia-based enterprise capital and personal fairness funds that spend money on native tech firms. Requested whether or not ladies maintain partnerships or govt positions at his agency, Mr Ivanov admits: “We’re solely initially.”
This can be about to vary. BlackPeak, which is backed by the EU’s European Funding Fund, plans to rent its first feminine funding adviser this 12 months, “not particularly for variety causes however as a result of we now have a selection of excellent candidates and it might be helpful to the enterprise”, Mr Ivanov says.
Pavel Ezekiev, a enterprise capital specialist who final 12 months launched Neo Ventures, a fund aiming to boost €200m to spend money on expertise, is looking for ladies associates. “My expertise has been that girls can assist you keep out of hassle, because of a capability for being detail-oriented and digging out all of the details [behind a proposal],” he says.
Case examine: How a hemp tampon might change the fortunes of a depressed area
Valentina Milanova, a Bulgarian entrepreneur, is planning to launch an progressive feminine tampon, a product she claims has barely modified for the reason that first fashionable model was launched within the US within the 1930s.
Her start-up, Anne’s Day, is operating medical trials in Bulgaria of a tampon made out of industrial hemp, somewhat than cotton or viscose, and infused with CBD (cannabidiol) oil derived from the hemp plant, which is used to handle extreme ache and irritation in folks with most cancers or arthritis.
The 23-year-old, who studied economics and enterprise within the UK, says she got here up with the concept whereas taking a graduate course on the Harvard Enterprise Faculty-affiliated Centre for Financial Technique and Competitiveness at Sofia College.
She was on the lookout for an progressive solution to stimulate enterprise in north-western Bulgaria, one of many EU’s poorest areas, and found that earlier than the second world warfare the district had flourished as a producer and exporter of business hemp.
“I began researching hemp, and browse each tutorial paper on it I might discover. Two of its properties actually struck me — improved absorption in contrast with present tampons and ache aid that would assist with menstrual cramps,” says Ms Milanova.
The corporate is known as after Anne Frank, the younger Jewish Holocaust sufferer who greeted the onset of her interval in her diary as “a momentous occasion”.
An angel investor supplied seed funding, whereas PBG, a Bulgarian producer of CBD oil, is backing the medical trials in co-operation with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The tampon is because of be launched in September, along with free entry to an app for girls to observe their fertility, monitor their interval and obtain reminders to hold out breast self-examinations. “There’ll be extra purposes down the highway — we’re working with some main UK gynaecologists. I would like Anne’s Day to be the go-to place for feminine reproductive well being,” says Ms Milanova.