Through Ana’s Eyes

Last September, I interviewed Maryana Yarmolenko Stober, the President of the Swiss chapter of WISTA (Women in Shipping and Trading Association). We discussed a joint report that WISTA Switzerland and PWC Switzerland had published on gender equality within the Swiss shipping and trading sectors. The two organisations recently published a second report, and I wasn’t surprised when Maryana contacted me for a follow-up discussion.

I was, however, surprised that she wanted to talk about a different project, Through Ana’s Eyes, that WISTA has put together in partnership with Equity Commons. This US company uses virtual reality technology to train people on equity and equality.

Together, they have developed a virtual reality experience where participants can feel what it is like to be a woman in a commercial position at a trading company.

Maryana told me she hopes “the experience will allow both genders to better understand each other and for organisations to take a more thought-through approach and actionable steps towards equity in their workplace.”

I recently read Jan Morris’ book Conundrum. Jan was an English journalist and author who, in 1976, was one of the first people to have a sex change operation from man to woman. What I found fascinating was that her old male friends treated her differently as a woman. They talked down to her. They mansplained things. They excluded her from conversations.

Jan was one of the first people to experience this implicit bias directly. I asked Maryana if this was what WISTA Switzerland and Equity Commons were trying to achieve with Through Anna’s Eyes, letting men experience how they treat women.

“It’s similar,” she told me, “But it lasts less than five minutes. It’s not permanent, and you don’t have to go through a painful operation first!”

WISTA Switzerland and Equity Commons will host an event to showcase the technology on Tuesday, 30th April, open to the public. They will hold a private event for HR departments and senior executives earlier in the day. The content will be the same for the two sessions, but the first discussion will focus more on HR. They will have 20 headsets available, so they may have to do it in 2 or 3 rounds. After everyone has had the experience, there will be a roundtable discussion.

“We are an NGO promoting women’s leadership, and we already provide training to our members on this topic,” Maryana told me. “This is our first event using virtual reality headsets. We look forward to seeing how it goes and how much interest we attract. But yes, we hope to be able to develop it.”

When I first joined the business in the 1970s, it primarily consisted of men drinking too much alcohol and behaving badly. The industry has changed dramatically since then, and I wondered why, half a century later, we still needed Through Ana’s Eyes.

“It’s a good question,” Maryana answered. “We have now completed two research studies with PWC Switzerland, and they both show that Swiss commodity trading and shipping remains a male-dominated industry, especially the higher you look in the hierarchy.

“Our findings show that male respondents are more likely to perceive equality than female respondents. This gap is evident across all levels of trading companies. It is particularly pronounced in areas such as promotion, where more women disagree that promotions are equally accessible to both genders.

“At the non-management level, women perceive less access to mentorship and professional development, suggesting a need for targeted engagement and growth opportunities. Furthermore, female respondents report experiencing subtle forms of discrimination, known as micro-behaviours, more frequently than men, highlighting an area for companies to address in fostering a more inclusive work environment.

“So yes,” she continued. “The problem persists in Switzerland and elsewhere. Our report shows progress, but we still have far to go.”

My next question was why.

“Men in senior management think they’re being fair regarding promotion,” she explained. “But they’re not. They’re promoting men more than women without realising it.

“Men sometimes ask whether we are saying that they should promote women just because they are women. That is not what we are saying. We are saying women should have precisely the same promotion opportunities as men.

“These opportunities start early in their careers when women access mentorship, professional development, and exciting projects that later lead to promotions. This first step has to be equal.”

I began to understand the problem: men perceive the workplace as equal, while women don’t. Senior male manager managers aren’t aware of their bias. If they get a choice between an equally qualified woman and a man, their natural bias is to promote the man. But they don’t realise it.

“That is why it is important to make people aware that we all have biases,” Maryana told me. “Biases are normal. We all have them. We just need to understand how to react to them.”

Women in the commodity business tend to be concentrated in the legal, communications, HR, and operations departments. The trading desk remains the last bastion of male dominance. When I asked traders why they think this is the case, some replied that men are better traders. They argued that women have a smaller risk appetite and make worse risk assessments than men.

“Research shows that women are not worse traders than men,” Maryana said. “It has more to do with the social pressure trading roles place on women. They are traditionally structured in a way that requires traders to be available 24/7, giving little flexibility regarding working hours and other personal arrangements.

“Women tend to carry more responsibilities at home than men and trading jobs don’t fit well with those other responsibilities.”

The event will be held at the InterContinental, Chemin du Petit Saconnex 7-9, 1209, Geneva, from 18:00 to 20:00. For further details, please contact president@wista–

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