March 07, 2024

Anna Diyakova interview for WoMO

30 years in the Cement Industry: Head of CEMARK's Podilskyi Cement Plant on Leadership, Young Industry Talent, and the Company During the Great War

"I draw strength from my responsibility to people," says Anna Diakova. The woman leader with more than 30 years of experience in the field of heavy industry, and for the last five years, she has been heading CEMARK's Podilsky Cement plant. WoMo talked to Anna about gender balance at work, the challenges of a full-scale invasion, and the qualities required for a leader.

As a woman in a leadership position in a traditionally male-dominated industry, do you face gender stereotypes in your work?

Throughout my career, I have never felt that I was evaluated in terms of "man-woman". Everywhere I went, I had to prove that I was a professional and that I was ready for the work I was doing. And it turned out that among my male colleagues, no one was better at a particular job than me. This was the most important argument that influenced the managers' decisions.
When you start as a  junior specialist, you work as an expert and are responsible for the result. When you move up the career ladder, you realize that your area of responsibility is not only your work. And here the ability to unite people is crucial. It seems to me that this is a skill that is quite well developed in women because women have historically cultivated it. To make everyone around you feel comfortable. To unite people and create the right working conditions.

Please tell us about the gender balance at your plant.

At our plant, we have about 70% men and 30% women.
When we post a vacancy, we do not specify whether it should be a man or a woman. We only indicate what skills, competencies, and knowledge are necessary for a person to take this position. But fewer women are applying.
I think it's not because we are uninteresting to women or our business is exclusively for men. It's because there are certain stereotypes, and, in general, women are less likely to seek jobs in industrial enterprises, particularly in the cement and steel industries.
What are we already doing to change the situation? We talk about it more. We organize open days. We speak at colleges and universities and conduct tours of the enterprise so that young professionals can learn more about the conditions in which our specialists work.
Education and information are the keys to everything. I am a mother of two daughters and I want to say that we as a society need to stop telling girls that their main goal is to find a good husband. A girl's goal should be to afford any life she wants, to earn for it, and to create it on her own. We need to talk about the fact that both boys and girls are equally responsible for the life they will eventually have. It is important to articulate both in families and in educational institutions that girls have the right to create a dream and be sure that they can realize it.

Does the plant have special programs or initiatives aimed at supporting women who work or want to work in "male" professions?

When we talk about the performance of work duties, it makes no difference to us what gender a specialist is. But our task is to make the working environment comfortable for everyone. This means that we create separate showers for women and men. When ordering workwear, we take into account women's physiology. Once, we had a request from female employees for additional hair dryers in the locker rooms, and we bought them. We have an ongoing dialog with our employees. If women (as well as men) feel the need for something, they turn to the management, and we we resolve these requests.
At CEMARK, we think not only about doing our job and achieving results but also about our life outside of work. That's why we created the Ladies' Space channel in a messenger, where women from the plant discuss topics that are important to them. Sometimes we create small events specifically for women. We feel that there is a need for this, and we are happy to organize supportive, female community.

What measures do you take to ensure equal opportunities and a safe environment for all employees, regardless of gender?

We have a Safety Café, which is my personal invention. Twice a month, at eight in the morning, I meet with the plant's employees and we discuss occupational health and safety issues over a cup of coffee.
Safety in the workplace is our top priority. After all, there is nothing more valuable than human life. It is important for us that our employees come to the plant, work safely, and go home healthy. Therefore, we pay special attention to the organization of workplaces and compliance with safety rules. This is important to make part of the culture. How do you do that? By leading by example, training, explaining, and listening.
That is why we meet twice a month in an informal atmosphere. This way, employees do not expect inspections, punishments, or comments. We communicate on an equal footing and exchange opinions. And we always end the conversation by emphasizing that workplace safety is important to them.
We also pay great attention to the environment. Every year, we allocate a certain amount in our investment budget for the development of occupational health and safety, for improving workplaces, and strengthen our influence on improving the environmental situation. Our key priority is to reduce CO2 emissions. Currently, CEMARK has one of the lowest indicators among all companies in the cement industry in Ukraine. Globally we plan to reduce them by 30% by 2030 globally. Although there are no taxes on harmful emissions in Ukraine yet, we still consider it is our duty to work in this direction. It is about the industry's responsibility to future generations.

Do you think professional opportunities for women in your industry have changed due to the mobilization of men?

I can't say that the situation has changed in the last two years. In such a short period, it is difficult to train women specialists for what are considered typically male professions, such as heavy transport drivers or operators of large equipment.
I am sure that any woman can do this work. She will be able to master a "male" profession if there is a critical need. At the same time, we provide our employees with opportunities to develop and even change their specializations: we organize training and rotations between plants.
We have recently introduced a mentoring and coaching system: an employee can contact a person they would like to see as their mentor directly.

Does the company have any student programs aimed at developing young talent?

CEMARK has been working in this area since 2015, and now we have launched an even larger communication campaign in colleges and universities. We have two programs: one is aimed at students of working specialties, and the other is aimed at a wider range of professions, including finance and HR. This allows us to create a pool of specialists. And young people get their first job and know that they have the opportunity to grow and develop here.

What problems have become the most acute for you since the beginning of the war?

Probably, how to save the company, and how to continue product manufacturing. To work effectively, we not only need to be provided with raw materials and energy, but we also need a certain number of people to work with the equipment. This issue was most acute.
Our cohesion helped us a lot. We identified key positions that must be retained, key specialists, and those who can temporarily combine several functions. This is how we built a crisis plan for each area.
And, of course, one of the most important tasks is to support our employees in this difficult time. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, we made sure that all employees left for relatively safe regions. The company rented accommodation for everyone in advance. No one was laid off. Everyone received their salaries and annual bonuses on time.
We have 482 employees. Unfortunately, no family has not been affected by the war. Our main task is to support these people financially, organize a psychological assistance service, allow them to speak out, and show them that they are not alone.

At this moment, when you need to support your employees and save your company, what gives you strength?

I draw strength from my responsibility to people. I have an internal obligation to them - it appeared the moment I agreed to work in this position. I manage a plant, but not just iron. I manage people.
And when I took on this responsibility, I had to answer two questions. The first was whether I would have enough health. I did a full check-up to make sure I had no serious problems. And the second question was whether I was ready to accept people's problems as my own.
When answering these questions, you need to understand what is stronger in you - motivation or discipline. You can't go with just one motivation. You should accept a responsible position only if you have good discipline. You will not always have the desire to do what you are doing. And only willpower allows you to keep this bar in balance.
It is also important to understand how ready your family is for your leadership position. A manager cannot spend as much time on the family as before. It's important to discuss everything with your family and find a solution: if you have children, hire a nanny, or ask relatives to help you, and plan vacations and holidays in advance. Anything is possible, but you need to soberly assess your strength.

How did your family react to your new position?

I have been married for over 18 years and my husband is the driver that motivates me to move forward. He is proud of my achievements and encourages me to reach new heights. Once I asked him: "Do you realize that the higher you go, the more painful it is to fall, right?" He replied: "I'll catch you."
I have two daughters: one is 27 and the other is 17. They want to be "like mom" and I can't let them down. My eldest daughter is a surgeon and will be completing her residency in two years. She often asks for my advice because I am a source of experience for her. Thanks to this, my daughter can avoid the same mistakes that I once made.

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