Culture

Learning About Community from Ukrainian Women in Tech

Reaktorians hug at WebSummit side event
December 19, 2022

Read time 7 min

In November 2022, Reaktor Lisbon and Wtech co-organized a Web Summit side event, along with Portuguese Women in Tech. The theme centered around opportunities and challenges for women in tech. There were some insightful points and learnings gleaned during our gathering. We’d like to share just a few.

Community is a word we use a lot at Reaktor. In fact, when we talk about our nine locations, we’re often reminded that they shouldn’t be referred to as “offices.” “People want to belong,” explains Nizar Jouini, part of Reaktor’s Talent Communities team. “And you can’t belong to an office — it’s just a building. You belong to a community.” 

But in a world that’s been forever changed by Covid, where remote and hybrid work are fairly standard, how do you foster community, especially in an organization like Reaktor, that’s growing every month and becoming more diverse and international? You take a lesson from the women of Ukraine.

Wtech is an organization that describes itself as “an international community for women leaders in tech and online businesses.” Although it has global reach, most of the group’s 5,000 members/participants have a Ukrainian background. It was started in Kyiv in 2018 by Viroslava Novosylna and Viktoriya Tigipko to support female leaders in technology there. It then grew to 14 other cities in Ukraine. 

Viroslava Novosylna
Viroslava Novosylna


“Looking back, the first two years were so normal, so easy,” says Viroslava. “When the pandemic hit, we were like everyone else — just trying to figure out how to do things under these new circumstances. It was especially difficult because our mission is to connect people, and suddenly we were doing everything online, isolated from each other.”

And then 2022 gave way to another crisis: Ukraine was invaded.

Suddenly, Wtech’s members were not focused on finding investments for their tech companies or networking with other professionals. They were concerned with their lives and safety — and Wtech was there for them. For the first few months after the invasion, Wtech’s communications platform became a channel for their participants, not for growing their businesses, but to interact with others for mental and emotional support and practical assistance. “Turbulent times demand new approaches and solutions in the short term,” notes Viroslava. “The only way to achieve that is through communities of like-minded people with common goals and values.”

Soon, things changed in another way: people started fleeing the country. The sudden diaspora resulted in pockets of Ukrainian women all over Europe. To better serve their community, Wtech began an intense expansion. They opened their first international chapters in London and Berlin just before the war began. But by late 2022, chapters were launched in 10 more cities, including Paris, Washington, D.C., and Amsterdam — plus there are plans for 30 more.

November 2022 saw the start of the Lisbon chapter. The Portuguese capital was a natural destination for refugees because a large population of Ukranians already lived there. It was an even more perfect fit for Wtech members, since there’s a thriving tech scene as well. Reaktor hosted the Lisbon launch — which was also a celebration of Wtech’s four-year anniversary. The event included a panel with Viroslava, Ines Silva, the co-founder of Portuguese Women in Tech, Patricia Ghiradelli, Reaktor’s Culture Ambassador in Lisbon, and Cassey Shapiro, Reaktor’s Global Head of DEI. 

Panel including Cassey Shapiro, Viroslava Novosylna, Ines Silva and Patricia Ghiradelli speaking at Reaktor/Wtech's Web Summit side event
Cassey Shapiro, Viroslava Novosylna, Ines Silva, Patricia Ghiradelli


It was actually the first time a Wtech event like that was held outside of Ukraine, and the packed room was a mixture of old friends and new acquaintances. A few were Wtech representatives from other countries, and others were women from Ukraine who didn’t know about the group before the war spread their reach. And then there were some who had no idea who Wtech was and were brought in by Reaktor, Portuguese Women in Tech, or just curiosity about the event itself.

Reaktor & Wtech's Web Summit Side event
Reaktor & Wtech’s Web Summit side event


In
fact, interest in and concern for the plight of Ukranians has made people from all parts of the world take notice and help out. They in turn become part of the Wtech community. That’s allowed Wtech not only to grow but also diversify, which has played a large role in their effectiveness as an organization. “No matter how big or small your community is,” says Viroslava, “it’s the people who are part of it that matter. You may be highly specialized in this particular area, while another person knows someone with whom you could cooperate, so you join forces. That’s the power of community.” It’s also why Reaktor and Wtech are excited about more opportunities for future partnerships — especially in Lisbon and Amsterdam — so they can see what can be accomplished together. Viroslava adds, “Reaktor is a major player in the market for creative technology, and we are endlessly happy to connect with people who are in line with our values and goals.”

Today, Wtech has returned to its mission of helping their participants succeed in business, but now they do it against the backdrop of members being uprooted from their homes and possibly separated from their husbands or other loved ones. “Interestingly, the community’s activities became even stronger with the invasion,” says Viroslava. “Since the Ukranian men are on the front lines of battle, the women have stepped in to be on the front line of supporting the country’s economy. So Wtech is doing everything we can to help them build networks, find career opportunities, and exchange knowledge and contacts.”

What points can Reaktor, or any organization, take from Wtech and its members to build a stronger community?

  • Respond to the Immediate Needs of the Community
    Like Wtech did when Ukraine was invaded, sometimes the bigger picture needs to be put aside for a while to address whatever is going on in the lives of the community’s members. It could be as simple as listening, or it may include small gestures. Reaktor learned this during Covid, when we saw the effect sending care packages, putting on remote events, and organizing fun activities around the different holidays had on our employees. It showed them we cared and reminded them they were part of a team.
  • Go to  Where the People Are
    When Wtech noticed the unforeseen migration of their members, they opened chapters in areas with dense Ukrainian populations so they wouldn’t feel isolated. This development added even more people to their rosters. Over the past several years, Reaktor has been seeking out the best tech hubs to open talent communities, such as in Lisbon, and we’ll continue to scope out new areas as well.
  • Diversify
    The diaspora gave Wtech a unique opportunity to involve more non-Ukranians. That allowed for a wider perspective and more interesting and fruitful collaborations. Reaktor recently took major steps in its global DEI efforts, with an aim to develop diversity, inclusion, and equality among all areas so everyone at Reaktor feels welcome.
  • Make Members Feel Like They’re Part of Something Bigger
    Ukrainian women are tasked with keeping their economy afloat during a time of war. That is a mission many hold dear. At Reaktor, we choose projects that have meaning, and our developers, engineers, and designers benefit from doing work that makes a real impact.

After reflecting on all these points, have we reached our goal yet, or are we satisfied? No. “A healthy work environment is not a task that you complete, because it needs to be maintained.” says Tiina Salo, who’s been on Reaktor’s Human Resources (or HUG team, as we call it) since 2010. “And that includes evolving with whatever’s going on in society. It’s an ongoing effort that’s shouldered by everyone in the company.”

Nor is it a C-level mandate that can be imposed through some strategy, because community is about the organization as a whole, and it needs to be embraced as such. Pekko Paavilainen, who is part of Reaktor’s Community & Events team, agrees. “Reaktorians make the Reaktor community, and we all have the responsibility to keep on building the sense-of-community. A feeling of belonging is made of small and big things that each of us can do in customer projects and everyday encounters.”

Two happy designers laughing

These are uncertain times. Every organization experienced that with Covid. And Wtech knows it even more so. Because of that, there is an even greater need to keep building community. But that’s an opportunity as well. “We’ve seen an incredible cohesion of our community in moments of change and challenge,” says Viroslava. “So embrace it. That is what makes it stronger.”

 

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