Elena Samborska, Managing and HR Director for Luxoft Ukraine and President of the Ukrainian IT Association, talks to Georgia Smith about women in IT, the importance of diversity and inclusion, and the difficulties of performing business as usual in the face of instability.

Having gained two director roles and taken on the Presidency of the Ukrainian IT Association, Elena Samborska tells us about her inspiration for moving into the industry, her hopes for the future, and how a diverse team and strong decision-making training gave Luxoft Ukraine the resilience to keep operating and adapting in the most difficult circumstances. We also hear her perspective on how creating a culture of inclusivity and equal opportunity does more than just increase diversity, additionally bringing forward the best talent and opening new pathways for development.

Please introduce yourself! What’s your job title and what does your job involve?

I’m Elena Samborska. I have two roles in Luxoft - Managing Director and HR Director for Ukraine. Two months ago, I took over one more role as President of IT association in Ukraine.

Tell us a little about Luxoft – what should we know about the organisation? What are its key markets and its recent greatest successes?

Luxoft is a global digital strategy and software engineering firm providing bespoke technology solutions that drive business change.

There are almost 18,000 Luxofters around the world, and Ukraine is one of the most developed locations with the main offices in Kyiv, Odesa, and Dnipro plus several coworking zones. Our remote family is growing rapidly as well.

Luxoft helps over 425 global clients innovate in the areas of automotive industries, financial services, travel and hospitality, healthcare, life sciences, media and telecommunications.

How, why and where did you start your IT career? What inspired you to consider a career in IT?

I started my career in IT only a few years ago; before that I had worked in the biggest ecommerce retailer in Ukraine. The IT industry has been rapidly developing and attracting a lot of talented people, and I think it was this opportunity to work with talented people that inspired me to join tech.

So, talk to us about diversity in Ukraine. Are there any statistics about representation in the Ukrainian IT sector? What’s it like being a woman in the Ukrainian tech industry?

Last year’s annual report from the IT association demonstrated that the Ukrainian IT sector is about 30% women. In Ukraine traditionally we don’t have gender discrimination and women are engaged in different industries including male-dominated ones.

Does Luxoft have any programmes that are targeting diversity? If so, what are they and how successful have they been?

We have a holistic diversity and inclusion (D&I) programme in the company. The programme's mission is to create an inclusive and ethical workplace where diversity matters and which attracts and develops diverse talent. To promote diversity and inclusion programs internally and externally, we have launched separate programs including She is in IT, a disability inclusion program, our One Team program and an inclusive manager program, among others.

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To strengthen our approach, every year in March we devote a whole week to a series of activities where we learn more about the role of diversity and inclusion in our business, the IT industry, and leadership.

At Luxoft we aim to create an equal opportunity culture where everybody feels valued, included, treated fairly and with dignity. We actively encourage and promote the participation of women in technology careers, aiming to inspire and elevate them through various means, including our She’s in IT workplace group, membership of the WomenTech community, and local initiatives such as Women Who Code in Ukraine and the LuxCode Girls community in Mexico.’

To track the results we have reports, created for each activity, which show us the D&I programme's dynamic. Over the past years this has been a fascinating job with positive results at each step.

Why do you feel it is important to inspire more women into IT careers? Why do we need more women in tech?

I think it’s important to inspire women to pursue a career in general. IT industry provides the best opportunity to do it in a quick way. In such a complex world when we face outstanding problems, we should have diverse teams to solve them. A lot of research proves that only diverse teams can be productive in a volatile and unpredictable world.

What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in IT?

Don’t believe in a glass ceiling. You are who defines your career path.

If you could send one piece of advice back to your younger self – a message in a time machine – what would it be?

I have only one piece of advice: develop your foreign language skills. It is not only about English. I think it is a huge advantage to understand the culture and language of different countries.

What advice would you give to a fellow IT leader thinking about diversity in their organisation?

Create an environment that attracts talented people and create equal opportunity for these people.

I imagine working life is Ukraine is very hard at the moment. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about keeping the team together?

Life in Ukraine is complicated, but we realise we are fighting for freedom and independence. We are able to continue working and developing our business in such complex conditions thanks to the Luxoft team, both globally and locally. We have managed to create a well-coordinated, agile team, and before the war we trained them to make independent decisions in uncertain conditions. Now we understand that this is what helped us to survive in the first days of the war and to continue demonstrating high level of resilience.

Finally, thinking about the future: if you could have one professional wish, what would it be?

Currently my main wish is the Victory of Ukraine, but career-wise I would like to continue my business education. And I have a long-time dream to find enough time to learn Spanish and to travel more.