When the European debt crisis hit Greece, our Global MBA Alumna Olga Athanasiadou decided to switch sectors and made a decision to move into the “not so fancy” public sector in search of stability. In an environment that is driven by the quality of service rather than profit, Olga found new opportunities to improve her personal and professional life-which resulted in her coming to IE to pursue a Global MBA degree.
Olga defines herself as a “hot and cold” mix-as she is half Russian and half Greek. She is a great example of a strong female, having fought and won against cancer while still in school.
Combining her private sector expertise with a public one, Olga is a great ambassador to both worlds and believes that the effort to make the working place a more gender-equal one should come from both sexes.
We hope that you enjoy reading our interview with Olga and get inspired to take the plunge when you need a change!
1. Tell us about yourself and your actual role at the moment.
Two facts that probably define my personality are the “hot and cold” mix in my DNA (I am half Russian – half Greek) and my fight with cancer while still in school.
The first has gifted me with an international mindset and the latter with perseverance in achieving success despite the difficulties that may occur. I usually focus on the “bright” side of things and love to seek solutions to problems.
At the moment I work in the public sector for the Ministry of Public Order & Citizen Protection and my role has two aspects, both legal and financial. It has to do with public tenders of the restricted procedure as they concern the confidential and classified types of supplies and services.
2. How did you get where you are today and how has your experience at IE helped you?
Ever since I was a university student I remember myself being very career-oriented. This is probably why my professional life began quite early and the position in the banking sector that I started with, promised a rapid career growth. Everything went according to my “plan” for the first 7 years until 2010 when the debt crisis hit Greece.
The Greek banking sector faced major challenges, followed by many mergers and acquisitions. So I made a decision to move into the “not so fancy” public sector in search of stability. Today, I congratulate myself for that decision.
The last 10 years have shown me that no matter how unattractive one perspective may seem in the beginning, there are many ways to turn it into your favor. There are many interesting and challenging roles in public administration that one can assume and grow. And despite the lower salary, there is more free time on your hands to invest in your future.
My investment was an MBA from IE Business School in 2016. In my case, it was an investment in human relationships, networking, and connections. Broadening my horizons and looking at things from a different perspective. Meeting and forming strong bonds with bright individuals from all over the world. My IE experience helped me get where I am today: a successful professional and a mother at the same time.
3. How do you achieve work-life balance?
At first, I thought it’s impossible. I kept investing in my career and postponing the next step in my life that should be starting my own family and having kids. However, during my experience at IE, I witnessed many cases in which my classmates and professors were successfully combining both, a family and a career (the former had to deal with a demanding MBA as well). So I took the plunge and I didn’t regret it.
Work-life balance is built on priorities and things that one is willing to “sacrifice” in order to enjoy others, sometimes more important. For me, it’s a question of quality vs. quantity. Now I am a mother of a two-year-old boy and in a few months, I will become a mom again. A quality time spent with my family is priceless and it’s definitely worth a temporary “slow-down” in my career growth. Besides, one of the perks of working in the public sector in Greece, is a very long maternity leave that helps you deal with the work-life balance issue, at least in the beginning.
4. What advice would you give to women who want to succeed in the workplace?
If a woman wants to succeed, she will. I firmly believe this.
The male and the female brain (and therefore mindset) is by definition different. Women possess different skills that are equally important in the workplace. And this is the added value that they are bringing to the table. The reason that we sometimes witness women making less progress in the workplace, in my opinion, is that they are not nourishing those skills and are not investing in them.
My advice would be: “Believe in yourself, don’t hold back, and don’t try to become something you aren’t. If this workplace is a place you really want to belong, give it your all and close your ears to negativity.”
5. What kind of mindset should younger generations have to break the glass ceiling?
I think that younger generations already possess the right kind of mindset, they are much more tolerant and more “comfortable” when it comes to equality issues.
We observe young couples raising the children together and putting equal time and effort in their upbringing. Therefore, many companies are offering extra perks to encourage male and female employees to find a work-life balance.
I seriously doubt that the next generation’s CEOs will still prevent female professionals’ advancement into the top positions in their companies. However, if that’s still the case, I believe that effort should be made from both sides to solve the issue. Female professionals should become more confident and resilient, especially when working in the male-dominated sector while employers should encourage equality at every level of the company, ensuring that women are fairly represented.
Previously published on European & CIS.
By Deniz Torcu, Associate Director for Europe and Central Asia, IE Business School.