Irina Bakhtina

Irina Bakhtina

VP Global Sustainable Business Communications Capability and Training at Unilever | Russia

When I met my future husband, he told me with a great degree of sadness in his voice: “You - women, can live your Purpose in life easily through raising a child of genius and be proud about it.  This does not work for us - men.” This sounded conceptually wrong to me.  I never planned to dedicate totally the second half of my life to the cause of bringing up a child...  My mother never did that, she never gave up her professional activities that consumed close to 90% of her time.  My elder sister and I were literally left to our own devices outside school.

Yet, I am here as a Mother by my way of influence.  Someone whose influence is not limited to a daughter or a husband only, but the one who dares to change lives of many families around, for the better.

My Purpose is to show others how the impossible can become possible. I feel I have a lot of natural power to communicate to others and influence their decisions that may lead to changing their lives. It is my choice and my responsibility to use this power for a better outcome.

My story is no different from thousands of other women’s stories who started working early and made a ‘vertical’ career in the public or private sector. For me, 2018 is going to be the 25th year of non-stop (‘chain’) professional ascension in public affairs and communications.

I started working for a local newspaper at almost the same time as entering the university to study journalism. Since then, I have seen the ‘ugly truth’ of what it is to be a communications professional for the local government, for a national agricultural bank, for a multinational tobacco company, and for a multinational FMCG company.

Many locations in my home country I had to change, many places across the world I had to see, not enough time to nest, not enough time to spend with the family, you know all that…

I got my wakeup call one night when I came back home from a long business travel and my then-3-year-old daughter got literally panicking and asked her nanny to stay with her as she did not want to stay with me.  My darling child whom I got rather late in my life did not know me well and did not want to stay with me.

… It took me three more years, hours of coaching advice from admired colleagues and dozens of wise reading, and a completely new daily regime to have her trust back.  I stopped working (almost!) and stopped being away overnight and at weekends. I started getting involved into activities that my daughter was interested in, taking her to travel to places she wanted to see, reading books to her or just discussing how her day was - every night before going to sleep. I opened our doors to all her friends (‘It takes a community to raise a child!’) and my mobile phone to their parents.

Today, three years after, I am happy with the level of trust between my daughter and me. I am always looking forward to those precious moments we spend together and I am proud to see how much inner gravity she has (though she has just turned seven) - to take others as they are today and to be positive about what is possible tomorrow.  People call it emotional intelligence.

My career kept progressing between the crucible moments I described above and now.  Over the last three years as I started spending more quality time with my daughter and my wider family and I have obtained a wider (global) responsibility for Capability Building in Unilever’s Sustainable Business and Communications function.

A critical learning that helped me a lot to balance well between professional and personal parts of my life came from a piece of wise reading.  There are four strategies to raise a child, they say. Three of them (hyper-controls, ignorance and criticism) are the losing strategies, and only one (support as needed) is the winning path. This winning strategy works perfectly well for raising talents and teams alike.

My transformational experience turned me from a destructive and guilty working mom into a Mother that has a lot of inner gravity driven with her Purpose and who is there to offer support when and as needed. This has shifted also my leadership style and my relationships. It is a completely new level of interaction and quality of living, trust me. Feeling guilty about being away from your children is the biggest psychological challenge that working women are faced with, historically.  The new economic role women play in the society has not helped yet shifting fundamental stereotypes around women’s role as a Mother. Pressures from public expectations are getting even heavier when a working mom is also a business leader or an entrepreneur, when she pursues her higher Purpose (or Calling), often at the expense of the time she could have spent with her family.

Meanwhile, latest data shows it’s not about the amount of time, but rather the quality of interaction and conversation (so, EQ) is the most valuable asset a Mother can give to her children, which ultimately reflects in the quality of living for them and their peers.

“It takes a community to raise a child”.  Well said.  In the future world, with technologies encouraging us to share more and own less and with the state of the planet pushing us to content ourselves with even much less, children would benefit much more from the “non-material” assets a Mother could offer. Deeper awareness of personal emotions and those of others. Better quality of conversation. Brighter analysis of facts and synthesis of ideas. Broader views and diverse perspectives. Helping a human being to become a truly self-reliable citizen. The one with a higher Calling. (And EQ, of course!)

Traditional bio:

Irina Bakhtina is an accomplished corporate affairs professional with close to 25 years of experience in both domestic and multinational companies, as well as local government agencies and mass media, including 6 years in her corporate communications leadership role covering multiple markets in Africa, Middle East and Central Asia (apart from home location). Her special strengths include strategy, change management, issues management and policy, crisis management, media relations, leadership and motivation.

In 2016 Irina became Chairman of the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee at the Managers Association (AMR). She is also a coordinator of a Thinktank on Administrative Barriers Elimination and Technical Regulation at the Foreign Investment Advisory Council (FIAC), acting under the auspices of the Russian Prime Minister.

In 2017, Irina was ranked as a #1 corporate communications executive in Russia (across all sectors) by the Kommersant Daily newspaper (‘Top-1000 Russian Managers’ rating) and also #1 corporate social responsibility executive  in Russia - by RBC Daily newspaper.