Born in the erstwhile Soviet Union, where one was not encouraged to be entrepreneurial or even stand out. A system where “kapitalisme” (capitalism) has a negative connotation and where the borders were closed to the world, it made her to dream of becoming a “world citizen” when she grew up.

Her mother was (now retired) a woman with big dreams and ambitions for her daughter. She raised her as a free spirit, with wild soul and grounded attitude towards a bright future. And when she realized it was not possible after the Soviet Union fell apart, they moved to Belgium in 1991, where she got her education in Business Management and started a career as an investment banker, traveling between Brussels-Geneva and Luxembourg.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, she started to doubt the financial sector and its integrity. Her manager at the time advised her to become an entrepreneur saying that it would suit her personality best!

So in all naivety, beginning 2009, she started her first company, Business Bridge International (BBI), connecting businesses between East and West Europe. But running her own business was not what she had imagined it would be – being free, working where and how you want, with whom you want. Instead she ended working 18 hours a day, missing the first steps of her baby boy Tristan, grew apart from her partner and neglected her health.

Business losses and a deep introspection she decided to change course and run a business that will add value to people’s lives. Make a difference to women, like herself, who wanted to have it all: a family, successful business, freedom and wellbeing!

That’s what led to Yulia Stark establishing the European Women Association.  Now, seven years later, she works globally with female founders and helps them with relevant networks, funding and education.

Responding to queries from the Women Icons Network, Yulia shares some of her thoughts on the journey so far.

Did you face any challenge that you were not prepared to face and how did you tackle it?  

My main challenge was a feeling that I have to choose between my career and family. I was not willing to do that. I was more than only a mother or an entrepreneur. I had to learn to create a strong mindset, develop my personal leadership skills, become more mindful of my choices and ask for help. That eventually led to growth of our community, and the message resonated with women globally.

In your opinion how can the industry work collectively to improve the state of Gender Equality @ Workplaces?

Honestly, I believe in a few generations we will not have the Gender discussion anymore. As the decision makers with the old boys teams will retire and the new, open, mindful generation of leaders will take over.

Technology will erase the gender concept and our society will be more equal in that evolution. And meanwhile, we women can work on our personal leadership. Remembering how empowered we already are but have forgotten this over the last few millennia of patriarchal leadership. We need to lead by example, showing our children that collaboration is the key to a sustainable growth and prosperity.

And men will follow.

Do you find women increasingly take up to entrepreneurship? What kind of support structures are in place to support women entrepreneurs?

Oh yes. And often because they can’t find the balance of being a care giver and a corporate environment. So they are challenged to pivot and start their own small business to be a present mother and partner. But that too has its limits in growth. Often leading to even more work that when employed. The only real benefit they experience is flexibility in how and when they work. Often leading to evenings and weekend work.

So that’s why I see there is a gap that we aim to close that by educating women how to grow, scale their business so it’s is not relying on their physical presence.

That means we need not dive deeper in strategy, marketing and sales but invest in automation and partnerships, in finding opportunities and growth of the network.

It’s a challenging journey, but the reward is just so worth it!

Women seem to be bearing excess brunt of the pandemic. Is the European Women Association focusing on specific areas to alleviate the problems?

True. The figures are disappointing. As women have many roles to fulfil – taking care of the children and their education during the lockdown, care giving for the elderly (parents), running the household and their business – all this leads to burnout and lack of energy and time to invest in themselves.

At EWA we are now focusing on supporting women in different stages of their growth:

Starters & career shifters – We help with understanding of who they really are and what they want holistically. We help them get more clarity on what their interests are and monetize that. We also partner with international accelerators, helping women test their business idea before launching it.

Wellbeing – We help with wellbeing aspect at workplace by running corporate in-house trainings. And once the borders reopen again, we will organise offsites to places like Bali, where we literally move away from work and focus on business strategies and the leader herself.

Growth – We work with Business Angels and EU grants to help finance scalable projects.

Connecting – Our mentors are always available for feedback and networking opportunities. So let us connect and see how we can make this world a better place for all!