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Elena Nikolaeva

Meet Elena Nikolaeva, one of the Kartesia employees who have joined Level20

At Kartesia, several team members joined Level20, a not for profit organisation dedicated to improving gender diversity in the European private equity industry. Elena is one of them and she tells us why!

How did you come to join the IR team at Kartesia? 

I joined Kartesia relatively recently, making the move to Brussels in October 2020. Previously I was based in Luxembourg and worked on the portfolio side in Private Equity, Capital Markets within Family Offices.  
I aspired to progress my career and make the transition to investor relations. When the opportunity came up to join Kartesia, I seized the chance as I could see it being a role where I would apply and further develop my hard and soft skills. I didn’t hesitate over the prospect of moving countries either, as I recognised that Kartesia is uniquely entrepreneurial and in a really exciting growth phase. I am truly enjoying being part of the company, the IR team is very involved with all aspects of the business.  
I find it appealing to work closely with managing partners; seeing how the different teams are constantly seeking new deal opportunities to help them grow, ingeniously monitoring portfolio companies, and be part of different internal project developments. It encourages me to constantly learn, develop, and grow together with the team.

You and some of your teammates have recently joined Level20. Can you explain what Level20 is to me?

Level20 is an amazing campaign group, founded by 12 senior female professionals, which aims to improve gender diversity in alternative investments sector. I would say it is a group of like-minded women, where some play a role of mentor, coach and others can seek advice for their careers, work-life balance and even maternity. 
Their ambition is for women to hold 20% of senior positions and they work across multiple initiatives. They inspire and facilitate the entry of women to join the industry through outreach programmes and promoting internship opportunities with alternative investors across Europe. Then they help them to progress and succeed by providing support and facilitating the sharing of insights and experience. And finally, but most crucially, they run a strong advocacy programme on the importance and benefits – financial and otherwise – of having greater female representation in the sector.


Why were you keen to join Level20? What does it mean for you?

When I was living in Luxembourg, I was a part of a “Lean In Circle”. Lean In is the ethos created and promoted by Sheryl Sandberg in her book by the same name and following that Lean In Circles were formed around the world. The experience of being in that group of similarly disposed women was really important to me and I was keen to replicate it when I moved to Brussels. Level20, in being focused on alternative investment provides another important element, as it really helps to empower women in the sector and share goals and opportunities. 
Having recently moved countries, for me there is an added attraction in the possibility of making lasting friendships through Level20 and having a support network. I like the candour of the forum, that you can share your challenges – personal or professional- and receive good advice based on lived experienced. This feels especially true during the pandemic where we have been able to share experiences. 


What do you think is the impact of organisations such as Level20?

I think the impact is tremendous. It provides a strong voice for women and it is truly empowering. It’s a great platform for promoting the business and personal case for greater diversity in organisations. The representation of senior women and the backing from big organisations in the sector, means that Level20 has real influence to call out where change is needed. 
I find it helps build confidence in women and encourages them to speak up, because they feel like they are supported and part of a collective bigger than just their company. It is so important to have such inspiring cheerleaders and mentors who really understand what you do and what you might be up against. We might have friends and family that we rely on for support, but they might not have the same direct experience. I think it is a force for improvement in the industry. 


Have you implemented any of the learnings or initiatives from Level20 to Kartesia? 

We are – it’s early stages – but we are preparing our own programme of seminars, coaching and mentoring in the upcoming quarter. I think everyone is really keen to progress with the Kartesia For Women and volunteer to support the initiatives. We recognise the need to attract women to Private Debt and the difference it makes. There has been a lot of progress at Kartesia already with a substantial increase of women represented across the company – we’re now at 35%, which is great!   


Do you think it’s important to have a mentor? 

I can only speak to my own experience, and I have found it incredibly helpful and think it is important to learn from the people around me. My mentor is a good friend, but we originally met in a professional capacity. I find her advice and support instrumental for my life and career.  
It is important to be able to speak your mind and have someone you can be really open with. I started mentoring younger students when I was still at University in Moscow, so perhaps I’ve grown up with it and it feels obvious to have someone to help you find that voice and be your advocate. Culturally also, women in Russia are seen as strong and leaders too, so gender representation in the workplace is generally more equal. 


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