First, love your people. If you truly love your team and care about them consistently, they will always have your back and be around. Second, let people talk — communicate like human-to-human, establish trust. My teammates always have a chance to stand for their own ideas, opinions, and get things off their chest. Three — cut yourself some slack. A burned-out leader will never inspire. Four — learn. Make learning a lifetime hobby and nurture this culture in your company. Why? Because dynamic life wants us to. And five — don’t be the smartest person in the room. Listen to your people, I am sure they have great ideas.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Veroslava Novosilnaya.
Veroslava Novosilnaya is founder and CEO of Ukraine’s leading SLOVA Tech PR agency, working with technology startups, IT-companies, VCs and media in 15 countries. Versolava is also CEO and co-founder of international community for female founders and executives in IT WTECH, currently with 3000 female leaders as members. Veroslava is a Brand Ambassador of Digital Women 2020, a global initiative whose goal is to digitize 1,000,000 women’s businesses in the world by 2020.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
To be completely honest, I have never dreamed of being connected with the tech world. As far as I remember, I’ve always been attracted to entrepreneurship. My career path began at a rather young age. By the time I was 20, I was running my first agency. Subsequently, several middle-sized businesses followed.
After a few setbacks, I decided to give it another try. Maybe I am wired that way — being able to take a leap of faith having zero resources other than myself. I recall signing a contract with my first client as a copywriting agency though, in reality, I was the agency. It was a tough start: I barely slept and had to rewrite the texts after hired authors.
With my first client, we not only needed to write the press release, but also distribute it. At that moment in time, media relations was a brave new world for me. I mean — why would a journalist want to publish a non-commercial story? Step by step I learned about reputation being a long play, hard work that takes much effort, patience. My path has always been trial and error, a never-ending learning process. This is how SLOVA TECH PR was born.
Basically, the agency was evolving together with the industry. I felt the need to share my knowledge, and this pushed us to host various IT events. The culmination was the Elevate conference visited by people from Forbes, TechCrunch, and Business Insider. It was the first event gathering the top global media and our startups. We managed to get together over 400 people.
As far as Wtech is concerned, it was one curious issue that created the community. At one point I had a conversation with my ex-client and friend Viktoriya Tigipko, the founder and managing partner of TA Ventures. We found out one upsetting fact: while 99% of my clients were men, the startups that pitched TA Ventures and required investments were mostly founded by women. Statistically, the picture was even more pitiful. In 2019 around 30% of women were in the emerging C-suite. These numbers were even lower in 2018.
This imbalance appeared to be the trigger for Wtech to originate. Viktoriya became my partner and we co-created the community.
Therefore, in my case, it’s as if the path was choosing me over and over again. I followed the calling.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The most interesting thing is that in the cases of SLOVA Tech PR and Wtech the circumstances and gaps created the businesses. Now Wtech works in 9 cities, has the support of 33 advisors who are the top in their domains. At the time that SLOVA was established, Ukraine experienced a boom in awesome startups. Ukraine literally was in the limelight in the global arena — the products were hip, the people were super talented, the world’s best brands were hunting our bright minds. At the very same time, there wasn’t an agency that was working specifically with IT and building public relations for this particular sphere. So that was the spot we took.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m a huge fan of Carrie Fisher. She used to say: “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true. And that is unacceptable”. It’s a certain angle to look at yourself and the world, and humor is a big part of me and SLOVA Tech PR. It takes being brave to expose your vulnerabilities and talk about them. Since we are humans we will always make mistakes. You just have to be smart about using them to your advantage.
Success does not teach you anything. It’s like lying in a warm bath — not cold, not hot. Fails trigger development both as a professional and human being. They make us better at the end of the day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well, first and foremost, the environment that created the business. Then the business started to create environments and projects that support it, such as Elevate Conference and Wtech.
Second, it’s job specifics. I am far from saying that the IT world never saw PR before SLOVA. Every big company has its own PR office. However, the process of strategic development, for instance, is considerably spread over time. SLOVA Tech PR is a boutique agency where quality is prioritized over quantity. It fulfills the role of a megaphone. While being located in Kyiv, we’ve been working with 15 markets globally. Over 6 years our team has turned into cultural chameleons because that’s exactly what it takes to build media relationships — you live and learn about how people work, talk, think. Asia, for instance, is vibrant, each country is different. The Japanese journalists are absolutely different from Singaporean pros.
I think it’s always the crew that makes the company stand out. We managed to assemble a team that will never choose the beaten track. PR is a territory of agility, multiple talents, boldness, diplomacy — this list can last forever because you never know.
The peculiarity of Wtech is that it is a social-impact project. We created the environment and boosted the resources and talent that have already been there. Now the ladies tackle their issues themselves — whether it’s business, partnerships, mentors, language, or personal.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Wtech community is going global. We are now opening new markets, and the first location to welcome our community is London. Again, strange times and the pandemic was seen by us as a trigger. Having the assistance of all kinds and maintaining mental health is as important as ever. Despite the lockdown, women stay connected, share their experience. Expats can support each other even when the borders are closed down.
SLOVA Tech PR is now developing in two directions. The first one — we are working with the foreign technology companies operating in Ukraine. The agency wants to be their first window to Ukraine. And the second one — we’ve already been operating in 15 markets, therefore, we want to strengthen our presence there.
Our clients are exciting because they embrace change. Preply makes learning accessible to everyone. Impress democratizes healthcare and disrupts orthodontics. AIR Media-Tech helps businesses grow with the help of bloggers and gives to content creators new and wide opportunities to make a profit. They all contribute to people’s convenience and a better life in their own way.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I’ve always been against unfairness. More than that — I never understood how a gender or skin color can determine professional development or affect it. However, the existing gap — around 30% of women are engaged in STEM — how can you be satisfied with such a strong imbalance? Obviously, this needs to be changed.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
It’s a double-aged sword, because the challenges are not only on the surface; they are also hidden underneath. As for the external issues, there are corporations that still haven’t achieved equality and transparency at the core of their philosophy. This breeds unethical behavior, unfair wages, unequal career opportunities. A lot of women face cultural barriers: they are raised in a way that does not imply having a career at all. People don’t seem to realize how family support is vital at any age. That is why inner issues sometimes keep women from grasping chances — a feeling of not belonging, for instance, in NASA.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
If I start dispelling myths about women in STEM or technology it means I have to prove otherwise. There’s nothing to prove here. This kind of rhetoric is not the type I support. I am aware of the situation and have a clear idea of the picture statistically. Instead of proving something to someone, I prefer launching initiatives, communities, creating environments, getting people together.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Let me see. First, love your people. If you truly love your team and care about them consistently, they will always have your back and be around. Second, let people talk — communicate like human-to-human, establish trust. My teammates always have a chance to stand for their own ideas, opinions, and get things off their chest. Three — cut yourself some slack. A burned-out leader will never inspire. Four — learn. Make learning a lifetime hobby and nurture this culture in your company. Why? Because dynamic life wants us to. And five — don’t be the smartest person in the room. Listen to your people, I am sure they have great ideas.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Dedicate special team sessions to mistakes and failures. Rather than scolding an employee, analyze exactly what happened, and find areas for improvement. Make sure each team member realizes their responsibility, and more importantly, own valuable contribution to the overall result.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Tech is global, and it has no boundaries. We have numerous tools that help communicate wherever we are. In the case of remote, distributed teams paired with the pandemic, it is a sound decision to have virtual meetings more often than before. It helps everyone to stay on the same page and keep up team morale.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was lucky enough to have a loving family that’s always been by my side whatever I initiated. No one ever forced me to choose a particular lifestyle and what or who to dedicate myself to. Parents are actually the first people in the life of a child who set the tone of our inner voices. Either it says to back off or to go for it.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
SLOVA Tech PR tells the world about businesses that help people. Wtech community exists to take care of its participants, helping advance in career and business.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Wtech is a good starting point, isn’t it? You have to begin with something, there is always something to fix at your fingertips. Even the biggest ideas and companies with global missions had to make small steps and do the hard work within a smaller radius.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it, and eventually, the confidence will follow.”