Since moving to Hong Kong in 2013, Kristina Pavchenko, Founder and Manager of FFile Ltd has championed women to succeed in business.
theDesk sat down with Kristina to learn about her experiences, and her upcoming involvement with the international women’s festival Festival du Féminin Hong Kong.
Drawn to social change
“I don’t think I’m a feminist. I’m just very reasonable!” Kristina Pavchenko quipped. Social justice has been a cause close to the Russian-born business consultant’s heart. It is also a foundation of theDesk’s inclusive community approach.
By age 21, Kristina had finished her first master’s degree in law in Russia. She then pursued another master’s degree in international economic relations in Prague. It was that period of eye-opening experiences which indirectly paved her path to Hong Kong.
Spending a semester on exchange in Mexico left a deep imprint on Kristina. Central America was an entirely different environment to from here native Russia. Apart from its welcoming culture, policies and operations were very different. The impact was much more significant. Despite being a country with visible poverty and political unrest, it did not deter locals from setting big goals.
“Many of the locals that I met in university were so hardworking. They truly believed they could make a difference in their country’s welfare. It was a refreshing sight to witness.”
Making Hong Kong home
During her studies in Prague, she met her husband. Soon after, he was offered a job transfer just when she was about to graduate. Ultimately, they decided to move to Hong Kong for a one-year posting in 2013.
She found herself a one-year job stint at a fiduciary services company. There, she provided consultancy services for foreign clients establishing entities in Asian markets.
The year sped by and Kristina and her husband decided to stay longer in Hong Kong. During her initial years in the city, she pursued ventures in business consultancy and continuously expanded her network.
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Dilemmas on settling down
Most woman who plan to settle down eventually face a crossroad in her career. While we hear about the difficulties in balancing family and career, you never know the internal struggles until you experience them.
Kristina was in the final round of interviews for a position with an international firm based in Hong Kong. Lo and behold, she realised she was pregnant with twins. It was a double-edged sword, even though a pregnancy should be a celebratory occasion.
“I had a big debate with myself. Should I tell my potential employers ahead or keep it to myself and tell them later after I’ve signed the deal?” she said. “It feels as though women can never win.”
Women are still considered the primary caregiver in may conservative countries, especially in Asia. Yet, they face the uncertainty of salary cuts, or worse, being laid off. According to Hong Kong Labour Department’s Employment Ordinance, male employees are only entitled to three days of paid paternity leave.
Kristina explained that Sweden offers a fifty-fifty percentage shared parental leave policy. Although Hong Kong residences can easily employ a domestic helper, parenting should ultimately be the responsibility of both parents.
“My husband is of Indian descent, while I’m from Russia. As foreigners who have lived in Europe and now here, we are more sensitive to our surroundings. We don’t like to take the resources we have for granted,” she says.
Having witnessed the working models and societal nature in both conservative and westernised cities, she feels strongly about fair distribution of opportunities, and the demolishing gender pay gaps. For Kristina, both men and women should – and can – have it all.
For a cosmopolitan city such as ours, there is so much more to work on towards gender equality.
Career in control
Taking matters into her own hands, she set up her own consultancy firm, FFile. As a working mother with infant twins, flexibility and control were priorities. Her client profiles switched from big corporate clients to local small/medium businesses.
This opened doors into a renewed professional life. By expanding her network, she met many working mothers who ran their own businesses from home. It gave her a new direction and purpose, focussing on this specific client base.
“My career and business started with consulting for overseas clients. It was well-paid. Yet, it never gave me the sense of satisfaction of meeting a person face to face. My clients are women who are embarking on a new journey in life,” said Kristina. “Now, I feel fulfilled to help my clients accomplish their dreams by creating opportunities for their businesses.”
Raising women’s voices
Women in general suffer insecurities about where they stand in the professional world. Even with the right credentials, many do not have the confidence to take it to the next level.
In reality, men have been the ones laying the foundations for career success. Apart from women’s lack of confidence, they may also face gender-bias prejudice based on their abilities.
Furthermore, as evident from the latest uproar across international news outlets, women are also susceptible to workplace sexual harassment. Oftentimes, these issues are swept under the rug.
“Opening discussions on female-centric topics is definitely on the rise. We definitely have to address it, not because it is a global phenomenon. We simply can’t pretend that it’s not an issue anymore,” Kristina said passionately. “There are so many struggles that women face and which men may not be aware of.”
A platform for women’s empowerment
With this in mind, Kristina and her company started hosting the ‘She’s Got A Business’ series. Passionate about supporting and empowering female entrepreneurs, she wanted to build a platform to inspire and educate them through regular events and panel discussions.
Emphasising “extraordinary ordinary women”, the series invites successful businesswomen who have overcome the odds to share their experiences. Several attendees contacted Kristina to tell her that they were inspired to take this leap of faith.
Furthermore, organising the gatherings allowed Kristina to hear fascinating stories about women who made significant social impacts.
For example, a managing director at a top chartered accounting firm first went to Bhutan and helped one local woman sell scarves. She now leads a training programme, teaching hundreds of Bhutan women to sew scarves to earn an independent income.
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Another groundbreaker involved a woman who’d once experienced a difficult childbirth. She channelled her hardship into something positive by leading an initiative that gives necessary sterilised tools to poverty-stricken pregnant women in Pakistan. The initiative has since saved 3000 women so far.
Despite the name, the series is not just for women. Kristina strongly encourages men to take part. Many senior managers are still men, while most wives have husbands. She believes it is essential to raise awareness among men to better understand women’s issues.
As Kristina perfectly puts it, “every family can benefit from a wife or mother with purpose.”
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Beach retreat in Hong Kong
Kristina’s calling seems to be driving a social movement for women in Hong Kong. Her latest project involves a women-only festival: Festival du Féminin. A first in Hong Kong, it was originally organised in Paris back in 2012. The festival aims to address the concerns and struggles of busy women.
The weekend-long retreat invites busy women to unwind and learn insightful life skills. From 25th – 26th November, the festival will be held away from the hustle and bustle at the quaint Silvermine Beach Resort in Mui Wo, Lantau.
Hosted by her client, Good in Hong Kong, Kristina has been helping with partnerships and sponsorships. The festival boasts an impressive lineup of foreign and local speakers who come from a variety of professions, including nutritionists, psychologists, hypnotherapists and TV journalists.
Festival topics feature top academic and experiential approaches, ranging from confident public speakings, body image positivity workshops, to improving one’s sexual life.
Kristina swears that her years in Hong Kong have been the most enriching time for her. Not only have these experiences given her much wisdom, she vehemently claims that it has improved her health and wellbeing too!
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