Can you negotiate a job contract? Give positive feedback without autobiographical advice? Promote a business on Instagram? Lead a team? 

Those are just some of the topics covered during Empower, a free nine-month program for women over 35 supported by a grant from the English Language Office of the US Embassy in Moscow. Its goal is to help its participants acquire new marketable skills and personal competencies and use them to fuel professional growth, find a new fulfilling job, especially after a maternity leave, or even start a business.

The program kicked off last February with courses in English, soft skills and computer skills and will continue in the fall with courses on entrepreneurship and leadership. 

“This initiative provides scaffolding for motivated women ready to take their careers to the next level,” comments Maria Didkovskaia, head of ITMO University’s Internationalization Department that administers the program. “We have the skills and the resources to deliver the curriculum specific to this demographic and therefore to drive real, positive change.”  

The participants come from a variety of backgrounds but share motivation and desire to dive into learning, now as adults. 

(left to right) Yulia Kildeeva, Evgenia Reinbach, Lidya Pozdeeva, Liana Dembo
(left to right) Yulia Kildeeva, Evgenia Reinbach, Lidya Pozdeeva, Liana Dembo

“Empower has been a kick in the pants for me,” shares Evgenia Reinbach. A mother of two small children, she graduated from ITMO over 15 years ago with a tech degree but never worked in the field. The soft skills she’s acquiring through the program have been an important experience for her.

“We learned about personal effectiveness, time management, and goal-setting,” Evgenia says. “There’s been lots of self-study and lots of homework. I’ve learnt to ‘eat my frogs in the morning’ and ‘cut up an elephant into smaller pieces.’ It’s the steps I can take every day to change my habits.”

Her most vivid impression? “Public speaking. It was very scary at first but also transformative.”

For Lidya Pozdeeva, a logistics specialist, participation in the program was prompted by a failed job interview. “I wanted to work for a larger company but didn’t pass the English test,” she says. Along with new language skills, she appreciated the opportunity for self-study and plans to take her career in logistics to new heights. 

Liana Dembo has already found a unique application for her new skills. During the previous academic year, she organized a meetup where adults re-read classic works of literature they last opened back in high school. 

“Classics mean different things at different stages in our lives,” Liana said. What started as a monthly meeting of just a few people is gaining traction. Now it has a permanent space and features lectures by literature instructors. “Empower gave me specific skills to take it to a new level and to promote it,” she explains. This year, she’s planning to launch it as a paid event.

It has always been “family first” for Yulia Kildeeva but now that her children are grown up, she’s exploring her interests. “I’m good at cooking and at explaining it to others,” she said. “So I keep thinking about starting a cooking school.”

Yulia is testing the skills she acquired through the program on her husband’s high-tech fishing hobby and hopes to soon transfer them to her own business: “Ultimately, to learn to break eggs you have to actually break them."