Stand and Deliver: Advocate for Others Even in the Worst of Times with Iryna Rubis
by Lisa Gable · 16 Jul 2022 · 8 min read
My Stand and Deliver series highlights women who lead through inspiration and aspiration. Today’s article reminds us to advocate for others even in the worst of times.
I chose to interview Iryna Rubis not only due to her dauntless commitment to gender equity, diversity, and inclusion, but because she delivered on her promise to support others’ career aspirations in the midst of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Iryna is the Executive Director of Biasless, an organization dedicated to building awareness of DEI and human rights; a Global Ambassador of Vital Voices; and a board member of Fulcrum NGO, an organization boosting LGBTQ+ inclusion in Ukraine.
Over the last few months, Iryna organized a community of professional women who’d fled their homeland and created partnerships with the European Women on Boards (EWOB) and GenerationCEO to serve as mentors to these women as they worked to rebuild their lives.
Iryna, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little about your career and what you want our readers to know about your current stage of life.
I am a social entrepreneur, human rights and DE&I promoter, connector, ex-reporter, straight ally, stereotype hater, energetic visionary, and mom of three.
I am also a career switcher. I purposely switched to the social sector three years ago after being a media owner in Ukraine.
I wanted to use my creativity, entrepreneurial, and leadership talent to amplify the voices of minorities and embrace tolerance.
Being part of a female community that is still far from equality, in March 2022, I got to know what it's like to be a refugee (although it’s correct to call us temporarily protected as we are not planning to stay in the countries that hosted us after the war and dream of coming back home). So currently, I am a “double minority.”
Before the unprovoked invasion of Russia, I ran gender bias elimination and tolerance advancing advocacy campaigns as a CSO leader, reinforced Ukrainian businesses with DE&I awareness as an inclusion trainer and strategy, and lectured at several educational institutions.
Now I help Ukrainian females who suffered from war consequences (both under temporary protection in the EU and who stayed in Ukraine) regain ground under their feet by matching them with European female executives from the same industry and country. I’ve also developed and launched a stress-relieving and PTSD-reducing chatbot for Ukrainian teens Mindcraft_ua (in cooperation with NY-based art-therapist Hanna Kegels).
This is my way of contributing to Ukraine's future victory.
I hope once it happens and business recovers, I will, to the full extent, return to the work I love.
Today, Ukrainian women are admired worldwide as they fight for their freedom both on the ground, through the media, and in their advocacy for arms and resources in Washington and other centers of power. What do you believe will be the long-term impact on gender stereotypes and culture?
To respond metaphorically, I presume the gender abyss will reduce its depth a bit.
I observe the positive change in the gender roles perception change that the war has sped up. Our president, Minister of Defence, and Chief Commander do not address only male defenders in their communications anymore. They started using feminitives (we have female forms of words in Ukrainian) as well all the time in their speeches.
"Twenty-five percent of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are female. It was 57,000 people before the war in December 2021. "
Now the numbers have grown dramatically. Volunteering has a predominantly female face. Many women joined the territorial defense. As you’ve mentioned, Ukrainian women are not invisible in politics, the social sector, or media as before.
Their input is apparent and valued.
At the same time, mass rape and torture of Ukrainian women and girls overlap the achievements.
War did not eradicate gender bias as well.
Prejudices like “War is a male business,” “Women join military forces to find a decent husband,” etc., exist and flourish.
Anyway, some positive gender shift is inevitable. Too many acts of bravery had and still have female faces.
At the very beginning of March 2014, Russian armed forces invaded Crimea. For several days foreign media did not write anything about that. My team and I decided to stimulate interest in the topic and catch the opportunity to show our foreign colleagues what was happening in Crimea. As reporters, we know which communication approaches trigger reporter and their audiences instantly. We were witty to use the sex boycott campaign to achieve our target of attracting media to Crimea occupation. Follow the links for the video case of the initiative <>
We could not literally work for a week as the chief editor of delo.ua, Kateryna Venzhyk, and I had to respond to numerous requests for comments, interviews, and explanations from all the leading media outlets of the world.
Simultaneously we launched the economic patriotism campaign, and it also went viral. We demonstrated how to beat Russia in supermarkets and compiled a list of Russian-manufactured goods that “occupied” shelves of Ukrainian supermarkets. We also suggested Ukrainian substitute brands of better quality. The project made a profound impact: substitute suggestions were printed by our readers and placed on billboards and across streets (not by us but by some unrevealed allies). Details are here
What are the top tips you have for a woman trying to assert her influence and ideas?
Remember the following mantras:
How do you help unleash leadership at all levels?
My observation and experience prove that once you help people to crystallize their driving force and support it with faith, support, and encouragement, it always results in growth.
There is a proverb: “Talents need to be helped. Mediocrity will break through on its own”. Imposter syndrome is a kind of an epidemic among talented people. So consistent and consequent support is the core reinforcer of a decently educated dowry.
Who inspires you today and why?
Ukrainians. Their bravery and inflexibility in front of the enemies and evil. Military people, externally and internally displaced but contributing to the common cause (the victory, I mean), those who act like partisans in the occupied territories.
Countries-allies of Ukraine that act quickly, openly, and generously and are not afraid to call a spade a spade.
Why? Freedom is my core value. The behavior of the two categories is the demonstration of the latter.
What is a future aspiration?
I want to contribute significantly to achieving Sustainability Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality) achievement by 2030. I plan to see a zero gender gap by the end of my life.
I plan to advance DE&I literacy and tolerance in the post-Soviet part of the world (excluding Russia).
I dream to co-create a world where the word equity is not accepted as something unachievable and not so irreplaceable.
I know that I’ve already raised three allies of mine who will add their energy to my aspiration soon: my 17 y.o. Polina, 14 y.o. Arsenii and 11 y.o. Emil.
My key takeaways:
What inspires me the most about Iryna’s interview is “think of significance more than about success.”
“Help people to crystallize their driving force and support it with faith, support, and encouragement. [This] always results in growth.”
Iryna demonstrates that the world doesn’t happen to you…you happen to it. The things you build speak to your impact on the world around you. How you treat people, how you react to success or failure, who you lift up along the way, that’s all part of the legacy you leave as a leader—kindness, humility, and generosity.
Every leader looks back on past accomplishments to see how they did. Ask yourself how you want to be remembered? Did you make success a team sport? Did you stand up for others during a difficult time? Start with how you want to be remembered. Keep to the plan despite what life throws in your way and deliver on the promises you made to yourself and others.
Iryna Rubis’s legacy is immense. Iryna, her family, and her country have faced unimaginable terror and tragedy with determination, sacrifice, and solidarity. We have also been awed by the openness with which the Ukrainian people have been greeted by their European neighbors who took them into their homes, communities, and schools.
The European Women on Boards and GenerationCEO support of these displaced professionals prove that mentorship is a movement. The actions of these organizations not only create a legacy of results, but also provide a shining example for young people watching their elders step forward to make a difference. Not only are these groups strengthening the economic ties between their countries, but lasting personal connections will be valuable for both Ukraine’s rebuilding and cultural diplomacy efforts to reinforce democratic policy objectives in the region. That’s a win-win for all of us.
What lessons did you learn from Iryna’s interview? Let me know what inspired you by connecting with me on Instagram or LinkedIn. You can also sign up for my newsletter and buy my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, at www.lisagable.com.