Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller was born in Moscow and her family moved to Spain when she was 11. She has studied in London and Singapore, worked in Russia and Thailand and met her husband while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
As Guernsey’s most international States member, she is keen to support Women in Public Life’s “Fill in the Guernsey Map” campaign for International Women’s Day
We spoke to Sasha recently and asked her why she believes more Guernsey women with international backgrounds should consider a role in public office and how Women in Public Life can help.
Sasha, what from your point of view are the benefits of diversity in general in public life?
We live in a very complex world with many competing values, priorities, thoughts, and ideas.
And it is a very inter-connected and international world as well, so it is essential that we have representation from as diverse a group of people as possible in terms of nationality, gender, and life experiences.
Why are international women less likely to stand?
There are still socio-cultural norms which prevent or deter women from equal participation in public life. On average women do still take on most child-caring and household responsibilities. And those hours a week can add up to thinking that you don’t have the time to do anything else.
As women we do tend to hold ourselves to higher benchmarks and we only apply when we think we hit all the criteria.
Whenever you feel you are in a minority – and that can be both for men as well as for women, for example in caring roles – there will be group dynamics where you do feel different and those dynamics can perpetuate. You are likely to be less vocal, less likely to stand up for yourself.
And there are practical implications such as childcare. The States roles are reasonably flexible, but they are very demanding and full-on. I think it is a challenge to combine with childcare – women may think that it is not right for them right now, they may want to wait for later. We are missing out on chunks of the population during child-rearing years.
In addition to all the barriers I’ve just mentioned that affect women in general, there are more barriers for international women and men, for anyone who lives in a country where they were not born.
One critical factor is the cultural and social acceptance of ‘non-locals’, or immigrants as they tend to be known in other countries. The political narrative towards immigration and how immigrants are treated plays a huge role in how you perceive your right to participate in public discourse.
Your personal background – from your country of birth or maybe the various countries you have lived in – also plays a role. So, if you come from a country where foreigners are perceived negatively you will feel that you are not welcome to take a more active role in public life.
You carry much more baggage as a foreigner when considering whether to enter public life.
Finally, there are language barriers and having that engrained understanding of cultural norms, having a better understanding of the history. You have to do a lot of catching up to understand how the local environment operates.
It’s an ongoing process: you have to feel that you have something to bring, regardless of your background. As you live in a place for longer, you naturally take an interest in the country, read more, talk to more people and inevitably you develop a better understanding. And at the same time, you develop your engagement with the rest of the world through associations with businesses and companies elsewhere which again is then really useful for feeding back into the local environment.
We are all part of a puzzle. The bigger and more diverse the puzzle, the more we can benefit – we all have a role to play.
We are all immigrants, we are all foreigners, you just have to go back a few generations, whether immediate, second generation or tenth, we have all moved around the world. In the US 43% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first or second generation immigrants. Immigration is extremely important for progress in culture, life and everything.
Which women in public life have inspired you?
Early on in Google I met Marissa Mayer, one of Google’s first employees. Highly intellectual and ambitious, she was a real role model for me then.
When you become a mum, your values change and you start to value different people. Now I look to someone like Jacinda Ardern because to me she marries the head with the heart. She is not just about intellect and ambition, she is also very much about community, fairness, equality – the values that make us such a great civilisation – and nurturing them through politics. To me she has been such a great influence.
Would I nominate an iconic woman from Russia? Not really. To me the Russian role model of leadership is not a model I want to embrace. It is a very hierarchical strong personality-type model. Women only succeed there by adopting that model. They toughen up, they lose their heart and they fit in with that system.
What are the positives of being a States member?
In Guernsey, which is such a small jurisdiction, most of our national infrastructure is owned by the Government. The public sector is one of the largest employers, whether you like it or not, and that is because of the extent and the quality of the services that you need to provide nowadays are very expensive.
As a Deputy you are really at the heart of critical decision making that affects everyone’s lives on a daily basis.
You have the power to vote pour or contre, to really drive policy developments on any issue. The way our Government functions, everyone has an equal vote, and you can bring amendments or requetes to any policies. Without an executive Government, individual Deputies have huge power and with that comes huge responsibility. You can choose to be on the back benches or to take a more proactive role. It is the most incredible platform from which to influence your community in the most positive way.
You can be the person who lays the first step, or even the second, third or fourth to bring about fundamental changes in the way the island and cultures operates for generations to come.
You are involved with an incredible breadth of topics on a daily basis – from Brexit and Covid to cannabis, digital, skills, unemployment, benefits, international trade and so on.
How has Women in Public Life helped?
Being involved in organisations such as Women in Public Life brings the possibility of being in public life on to your radar. I would not have even considered otherwise, it’s beyond the normal person’s realm of consideration. But by being involved in Women in Public Life you suddenly realise, ‘Why not?’. I went from no consideration or interest in local politics, to thinking this is something I really wanted to do.
Guernsey is the first place I’ve lived where I’ve felt such a strong sense of community. A sense of belonging is important to all of us; it’s an important indicator of your willingness and desire to participate more actively in your community. In Guernsey you do very quickly feel a strong sense of belonging, a desire to participate and be part of it. That is a huge incentive and a huge plus of our community.
If you are ever to consider going into public office, Guernsey is a fantastic place to do it.
Born in Moscow in Russia, Sasha moved with her parents to Spain when she was 11. Her parents left Russia because they felt it was a dangerous, volatile situation and they could build a better future for the family elsewhere.
Speaking no English or Spanish, Sasha had an intensive six-month course in English before starting at a British school. She now speaks fluent Russian, English and Spanish and can get by in French and Italian.
After studying at the London School of Economics, she worked for L’Oreal before deciding to ‘jump into tech’ and worked at Google in Russia for a few years. After that she completed an MBA with INSEAD in Singapore and then lived and worked in Thailand.
Her partner Geoff, who’d she met climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Kenya before she went to Russia, wanted to move back to be closer to his parents in England and they moved to Guernsey in 2012.
They married, moved and had twins all in one year – “a bit of a shock to the system”. Since moving to the island she ran IslandMums for five years and has been very involved with Start-up Guernsey and the Chamber of Commerce. She was on the board of Guernsey Ports, as well as running her own businesses and investing in start-ups in the UK. Her twins are now eight years old and the couple also have a four year old son.
She was elected to the States of Guernsey in October 2020.
To nominate an iconic woman who was born in your home country or island to help us celebrate International Women’s Day, click here.
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