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“We must say “yes” and dispel myths about the profession by personal example”

Ferrous metallurgy in terms of the introduction of new technologies and gender diversification is a much more progressive industry than is commonly believed.

Anna Korotchenkova, head of research and development at NLMK Group, part-time mother of many children, in an interview with WIM Russia talks about her experience in men’s teams, R&D in metallurgy, and the “duty” of women.

– Tell us where you studied, how did you get into the profession?

– At first I studied at a school with a physical and mathematical bias. It was the closest to the house, and my parents took me there solely for logistical reasons. But, logically, after school I knew physics and mathematics quite well, better than other disciplines, so I went to study at the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University. After graduating from the university, I received the specialty “physicist”, went to graduate school at the Russian Academy of Sciences at the Institute of General Physics, specializing in “laser optics”.

During my graduate studies, I applied for a job at Samsung. Initially, I wanted to work as an optical engineer at the Samsung headquarters in Korea, but when it turned out at the interview that I knew other areas of physics besides optics, I was offered to stay at the Russian R&D center and coordinate projects.

I worked at Samsung for 10 years, developing various materials – semiconductors, LEDs, thermoelectrics, fuel cells, correcting optical systems for phones, and took part in software development. In 2012, I moved to Siemens, also in the R&D department. Siemens has a slightly different profile: mechanical engineering, transport, infrastructure, automation, digitalization. There I was engaged in computer modeling, materials science, development and design of monitoring systems for industrial facilities.

– Against this background, metallurgy seems to be a conservative industry, how did you get into NLMK?

“Siemens and Samsung have been building their processes for years, and while I was working there, I was learning. And at NLMK, I was bribed by the opportunity to build an R&D function from scratch based on best practice. Recruiting a team, building R&D centers, opening laboratories, building a portfolio of projects – it’s extremely interesting! In just a few years of work, we have opened two large R&D centers: in Russia – in Lipetsk, where we have our main facilities, and in Belgium.

It is clear that the speed of technology development in digital companies and industrial companies, in particular mining and metallurgical companies, is different. This is largely due to the risks and capital intensity of innovation. If you launched a smartphone application, but it didn’t work, that’s one thing, but if you launched a blast furnace and something went wrong, these are completely different risks and completely different costs.

To be honest, I myself used to think: well, my God, steel and steel, the main thing is that there is no corrosion, but what else can be done with it? But in fact, there are a lot of steels, they all differ in properties, for example, steels for the automotive industry must be high-strength and flexible, strength and anti-corrosion properties are important in construction, the energy industry has its own history in general, there must be a magnetic moment. In general, the steels are very different, and the technologies for their production are different. If you want to bring a new brand to the market, you often have to develop technology from scratch, because the set of properties can be unique.

– The stereotypical representative of ferrous metal is more of a muscular steelworker than a fragile girl.

– NLMK has strong traditions, but not stereotypes. You just need to say “yes” and dispel myths about the profession by personal example. Now, thanks to automation and robotization, the list of professions that a woman can choose has expanded significantly.

I think there is a gender balance at NLMK. We have a lot of women who are in charge of not “girly” things at all. I am responsible for research and development, vice-president Irina Spitsberg is responsible for technology development, recently Tatyana Averchenkova was appointed head of the main Lipetsk site.

In my R&D department, the microscope labs are mostly girls. Such work requires attention – like crocheting – to look out for inclusions in patterns, their composition. And where there are laboratory rolling mills and masculine strength is required, there are traditionally male teams. Girls are not forbidden to work there, moreover, I have girls in my team who are engaged in optimizing the regimes at the camps, and we all go to enterprises. But it is uncomfortable for girls to constantly be in workshops where it is hot. Therefore, the gender balance that we see now in my division and in the company as a whole was not created artificially, it developed naturally.

Gender balance, I think, is useful. Women make decisions differently. It can be difficult for men to change their minds (“the boy said – the boy did”), while women are more flexible, more adaptive, which is especially important in a period of turbulence when situational decisions are needed.

– How generally do you conform in men’s teams?

– In the physics and mathematics school, there were only two girls in my class, in the group at the physics department too, so I got used to the boys opening doors for me. At Samsung, there were also only two women on our entire floor: a Ph.D., a chemist, and me, a graduate student. And I moved to Siemens as the head of the department. There I was also surrounded by men, moreover, experienced, with a long work experience, it took time to gain authority (especially since my “interface” is not very solid). I soon realized that while men do not feel competition from you, they perceive you as a nice girl with whom you can chat, joke. But if men compete, it is very tough, and they no longer see a woman in you. The usual feeling that a man should protect you is gone. It is believed that gossip and dirty stories are used in the women’s team, but in the men’s team the same arsenal of means, if not wider.

– Do you consider yourself a purposeful, stubborn person?

– First of all, I consider myself a person with common sense. I can prioritize and consistently implement my plans. Something may not work out now, there is no need to stop or capitulate, you need to analyze the reason for failure and try again. But I will not stubbornly beat my head against a concrete wall (even in a helmet), I will wait or create the right moment in order to achieve the desired result with minimal losses. This also applies to personal relationships – you need to be able to let go. Do not cling to the past, look ahead and believe in the best. In my life, I have not given up on any of my dreams, I just postponed the realization of some of them to a later date.

– Anna, after all, you not only occupy a senior position in a large holding, but also raise three children. How are you doing everything?

– From my experience of communicating with mothers of many children and at the same time successful managers: do not look for heroes in this picture – selfless women who stop horses at a gallop and enter burning huts. I’ll tell you a secret, many sometimes have the feeling that you don’t have time either there or there – at such moments it’s useful to pause. I believe that in order to balance everything, it is necessary to prioritize tasks. The management skills that I use at work, I also use at home in terms of scheduling, internal organization, effective distribution of the workload of children.

Before the pandemic, I spent 80% of my time on business trips, somewhere on the sites (in comparison with this, a 50/50 shift has its advantages), the children also have a busy schedule. But when we spend time together, we do not sit on gadgets, we communicate, play board games, walk, that is, we are truly together.

Caring for a child is also work, and the most difficult one: you can’t take a break, you can’t leave your workplace at 18:00, and you don’t get paid. Women do not consider this work, they take it as a duty. But we need to change our view of what a woman does, and discard a sense of duty. Yes, a mother should raise a child, but at the same time without blaming him later that she devoted her whole life only to him. No child needs this, and he does not ask for it – it is important for a child to see a happy mother who loves her job, who develops and serves as an example. I want to believe that my children see by my example that an interesting job is great – when you go to work with pleasure and return home with pleasure.

Interfax correspondent Olesya Elkova

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