Changemakers in Action: EVN Macedonia Leads by Example

Speeches Shim

Stefan Peter and Aneta Petrovska-Rusomarosk
EVN Macedonia CEO Stefan Peter and HR Manager Aneta Petrovska-Rusomarosk, creators of the Women in INdustry Conference.
Women in INdustry Conference

Alumni of USAID’s Engendering Utilities program created the Women in INdustry (WIN) Conference to amplify lessons learned. Now in its third year, the conference is reshaping attitudes about gender equality far beyond their company.

Graduates of the Engendering Utilities Gender Equity Executive Leadership Program (GEELP) saw an opportunity to extend the reach of USAID’s program far beyond its partner utilities. In 2016, these program alumni created the WIN Conference in North Macedonia. The conference welcomed over 200 participants at its third annual event in October of this year. Sixteen speakers addressed topics such as Unconscious Bias, Measuring the Status Quo, Progress of Gender Diversity, and more.

The 2019 conference also featured an Engendering Utilities panel with speakers from the program’s partner utilities, who described how the program has helped them improve gender equality within their utilities. The variety of measures presented ranged from outreach activities like Energy Clubs in remote areas which promote safety, conservation, and career awareness for young girls and boys, to filling the pipeline through educational measures for ages 6–17, to sophisticated succession planning to support women being hired for key functions in the utility.

Sheri Adegbenro, Stefan Peter, and John Ayodele
All three panelists agreed that, “Gender equality is not about women or men only. It is a business topic!” Pictured: Sheri Adegbenro, Chief Audit and Compliance Officer, EKEDC Nigeria; Stefan Peter, Chief Executive Officer, EVN Macedonia; and John Ayodele, Chief Operating Officer, IBEDC Nigeria.
Women in INdustry Conference

The seed for the conference originated with EVN Macedonia HR Manager, Aneta Petrovska-Rusomarosk, who was also the catalyst for bringing the Engendering Utilities program to her company four years ago. Aneta has been proactive about effecting change at EVN and in her industry in general, as evidenced by the hard work she’s done to bring gender equality front and center, not only through the conference, but with other measures she’s taken to improve gender balance in the workplace.

“I learned that gender equity is win-win, not a zero-sum game: Collaboration and peer learning accelerate progress, benchmarks, and frameworks—both qualitative and quantitative—and keep us on the right track; and [achieving gender equality] is a man’s business as well.”

Aneta Petrovska-Rusomarosk, HR Manager, EVN Macedonia

To Aneta’s point, we asked EVN Macedonia CEO and conference patron, Stefan Peter, to share his experience with Engendering Utilities from both a leadership and male perspective. Currently serving his fifth year as CEO and President of the Management Board of EVN Macedonia, Stefan was one of the first executives to embrace the Engendering Utilities program as part of the program’s first cohort, which launched in 2015. He has been a strong advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment ever since he joined the program.

Stefan spoke candidly about his experience with Engendering Utilities, the challenges of implementing change on a large scale, and his commitment to making gender equality a hallmark of his organization for the long-term.

Interview with Stephan Peter, EVN Macedonia CEO

Stefan Peter
EVN Macedonia CEO Stefan Peter
Aleksandar Ivanovski / EVN

“Persistence is especially needed when you want to move/change the whole organization and not just part of it. It’s easier to move 20 people one meter than it is to move 2,000 people one centimeter.”

Stefan Peter, CEO, EVN Macedonia

What was your impression of the Engendering Utilities program when you first heard about it? Why did you choose to participate?

Aneta Petrovska-Rusomaroski, our Head of HR and Organization, approached me in 2015 with a proposal to take concrete steps to close the gender gap in our company. I was surprised to learn that we even had such a thing, but I was open to improving the situation. Later she was contacted by a project manager for the Engendering Utilities program at USAID and saw an opportunity for professional support from the Agency. That is how we became involved.

Can you please describe your experience with the program and its impact on your business? On the women and men who have participated in your company? Have you seen them change as a result of participating, and if so, how?

At the beginning, as I suppose happens in many companies, there was barely any awareness about the topic. The Engendering Utilities program creates awareness. The next step is to support the program and to define measures the company can put in place. That needs CEO commitment. Then consequent work has to follow, which was done by highly engaged employees in our HR Department and later throughout the whole organization. Persistence is especially needed when you want to move/change the whole organization and not just a part of it. I always say: It’s easier to move 20 people one meter than it is to move 2,000 people one centimeter.

The change in the thinking and behavior of our employees has been clearly visible, mostly through our hosting of the WIN conferences, one of the interventions that came out of our participation in the program.

“If your company is not attracting women, then you lose half of the potential workforce and talent. No business in the world can afford this.”

Stefan Peter, CEO, EVN Macedonia

How have your opinions about gender equality in business evolved since you began participating in the Engendering Utilities program?

A lot. First from seeing gender inequality as a social disorder, which turned out to be a business dilemma as well. If your company is not attracting women, then you lose half of the potential workforce and talent. No business in the world can afford this. In other words, gender equality is not only relevant for females, but for every responsible employer. Recognizing this has been critical to our success. This year we are proud to have more than 50 percent female participants in our junior engineers program, “EVN the Next Generation.”

What prompted you to become the Patron of the WIN conference?

EVN Macedonia is founder, co-organizer, and main sponsor of the WIN conference all in one. To facilitate that required my full commitment so I personally became Patron of the event, and ever since 2017, I’ve been working in between conferences to engage other business leaders to support gender equality as a way of doing business in the country.

Stefan Peter thanks his team of five female conference organizers
Conference Patron Stefan Peter thanks his team for a job well done.
Sasho Lichovski / EVN

What do you feel were three of the key takeaways from this year’s conference?

1) Gender equality is a business decision!, 2) Gender equality is a continuous process that needs to be organized and maintained!, 3) We have done a lot, but not enough!

What are your plans for the conference in the future?

Hmmm, after three conferences the expectations are high for continuity. This year we expanded the conference by including many other branches of industry and we have grown from our original concept, “Women In eNergy” to “Women In INdustry.” Maybe the time is right to expand to other regions and go abroad involving other countries from south eastern Europe. Although in previous conferences we’ve already had speakers and guests from Austria, Italy, The Netherlands, Georgia, USA, Jordan, Finland, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Switzerland and Nigeria.

What role do you see men playing in gender equality in the workforce?

The same as women. That would be equality at its best. But just as not all women are fighting for equality, we cannot expect all men to do so.

If you have one message to send to the business community about what you’ve learned from your experience with USAID’s Engendering Utilities program, what would it be?

Gender equality is neither a matter of corporate social responsibility nor a public relations topic. Understand the value it adds and make gender equality a business decision.

“Is there room for more talented women in leadership? Always. We need to position female role models and inspirational women as mentors to the aspiring candidates.”

Aneta Petrovska-Rusomarosk, HR Manager, EVN Macedonia

USAID’s Engendering Utilities program works with organizations in male-dominated industries to increase economic opportunities for women, improve gender equality, boost business performance, and strengthen economies. Through a customized best practices framework, demand-driven coaching, and a Gender Equity Executive Leadership Program, Engendering Utilities builds the capacity of leaders to implement gender equality interventions that increase the professional participation of women and meet their core business goals.

Launched in 2015, the Engendering Utilities program demonstrates USAID’s commitment to promote a path to self-reliance and resilience in developing countries by fostering enterprise-driven innovation, inclusive economic growth, and gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Engendering Utilities is a key activity under the U.S. Government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), which aims to reach 50 million women by 2025 through innovative and effective programs.