On March 2nd, 2023, the joint session of the Empower Her Initiative of AmCham Bulgaria was held on International Women’s Day. The event was hosted by MSD Bulgaria and moderated by Zlatina Kushkieva, Co-Chair of the AmCham Human Capital and Education Committee. At first, the audience was addressed by Melissa A. Marszalek, Commercial Attaché of the U.S. Embassy to Bulgaria.
There were a series of testimonials of best practices from members and partnering organizations.
The Women’s Network at MSD is the oldest business resource group at the company. Their strategic priorities for 2023 are: equity for women and other diversity groups in business, talent acquisition, sense of community and equity among the members of the different resource groups within this community: Women’s Network, Rainbow Alliance (representing the LBGTQ+ community), Next Generation Network and other resource groups that will be soon implemented in the company, promoting wellness by raising awareness of various diseases, specifically those that impact women (prevention by engaging employers in providing information on diseases like ovaries cancer, HPV prevention, mental health, etc.).
BCause Foundation and Their Causes
BCause Foundation has educational projects aiming to teach about diversity, inclusion, and tolerance, targeting both genders. NGOs face challenges entering schools because they are perceived as entities that try to push through some gender ideology. BCause has a three-year mentorship program – an entrepreneurship incubator for women-led projects that should be finding solutions to areas in society where primarily women are affected, such as social, health, educational issues, etc. In this program, they need mentors, so there is an area for collaboration with business in that field.
EY work to create an environment for supporting working women and working parents. There is a shortage of labor and Bulgaria has also demographic issues. Currently, this responsibility is within the family and employer circle. AmCham could create a task force working on that topic because it is not a single legislative change, but rather a need for a complex program.
IBM’s Path to Diversity
IBM has an academic program for women, Parenting Community, and career development programs. Also, IBM can provide allies, mentors, experts, and resources to empower women, giving them the right tools for successful careers.
Currently, IBM is developing essential skills for success that can empower ladies to grow. Also, the company has a parenting support community that helps mothers continue their career journey. In addition, there is Women at IBM Bulgaria business resource group which is driving not only good causes such as domestic violence and Pink October but also supporting leadership development in the company for senior women leaders. IBM has its own leadership program that is called Rise Up and it can support women’s leadership development with some ideas and experts.
Their academic program helps girls develop in the sphere of technology by inviting them to IBM laboratories and educating them. In addition, IBM has 40 academic ambassadors.
Council of Women in Business in Bulgaria
The first testimonial from the Council of Women in Business in Bulgaria (CWBB) was delivered by Tsvetanka Mintcheva, CEO of Unicredit Bulbank. CWBB has identified two major elements: 1. Women should choose their way of developing a career. and 2. When women pursue their careers in middle management or as entrepreneurs, they need different support, related to mentoring, studying, creating/participating in networks of support, and sharing.
The second testimonial was delivered by Irena Tsakova, Director of Permitting and Legal, Dundee Precious Metals Bulgaria, and was focused on two topics: Education and Legislation (flexible working time, remote work, etc.). The CWBB has developed such a document to foster inclusion.
Around 10 years ago, Ladies Forum started working on women’s equality. They have an international mentorship program on which they work quite extensively with more than 100 young ladies from different businesses. The question is how the knowledge from different countries can be utilized, and how different Ministries can support it. Ladies Forum has two surveys on this matter. The results of a local one conducted by The Economist showed that women are well represented on the Board of Directors of different businesses in Bulgaria. But looking at the representation at the supervisory boards and at CEO level, the situation is different – only around 20% are women. This is an issue that should be addressed. Some legislative steps could be considered in that direction.
Ministry of Education and Science of Bulgaria
Companies have a leading role in Dual Education: they can pick to inform, train, select, and hire as early as in secondary vocational education. All best practices that companies develop and share can have very easy access. There is no process of permission or any restriction on behalf of educational authorities. Gender-related quotas are removed from vocational education.
MESB has a project running till 2027 in which girls are going in circular training in different formats, labs, instruments, events, etc. 40% of girls are engaged in vocational training. In this respect, it is important to have career orientation, career fairs, etc. The Go Circular Program is an Eager for Investment and Technology project in which 700 girls have already enrolled. The targeted number at the EU level is 40,000 girls by 2027. 47 schools have applied so far (it’s a volunteering program).