CEO of carpooling service disinvited from interview on Russian state media after producer found out she was a woman

Cardboard cutout of CEO Irina Reyder's photograph in BlaBlaCar's Russian office. Photo Irina Reyder's Facebook page

Irina Reyder, the CEO of the Russian affiliate of carpooling service BlaBlaCar, says she was disinvited from an interview with state-owned Channel One when the program’s editor realized she was a woman.

Reyder wrote on her Facebook page about the incident. She says she was listening in on the call between Channel One’s producer and BlaBlaCar’s PR officer and recorded the exchange between them:

Р (редактор передачи “Доброе утро”): Формат будет такой: корреспондент едет за рулем и берет интервью у вашего эксперта.

PR (PR – менеджер BBC): Да, отлично.

Р : А кто будет спикером?

PR: Наш генеральный директор Ирина Рейдер.

Р : Ой….у вас же был замечательный парень ..

С: Да, у нас был генеральный директор Алексей Лазоренко, а сейчас Ирина Рейдер.

PR : Да, я знаю, что в прошлом году у вас сменился генеральный директор. Но Ирина как спикер не подходит. Понимаете, у зрителя есть стереотипы… Ну, там, хороший юрист – это мужчина. Или автомобильный эксперт – мужчина, но не женщина. Может быть вы, Сергей, сможете дать нам интервью?

E (an editor for Good Morning show): Here’s the format: our reporter is driving a car while interviewing your expert.
PR (PR officer for BlaBlaCar): Yes, great.
E: And who will be the expert?
PR: Our CEO Irina Reyder.
E: Oh… you had a great guy once, didn’t you?
PR: Yes, we had Alexey Lazorenko as CEO, now it’s Irina Reyder.
E: Yes, I know about the changes in your leadership last year. But Irina won’t work as an expert. You see, our audience has certain stereotypes… You know, like when there’s a good lawyer, it’s usually a man. Or someone who knows a lot about cars — a man, but not a woman. Maybe you, Sergey, can give us an interview?

When Reyder’s PR officer Sergey told the editor that there weren’t any male experts in the company, she says, the latter promised to come back later after consulting with their producer. On a call later, they told BlaBlaCar’s representative that the story's format had changed and they would be interviewing the service’s users instead.

“What do you think? Will the new experts be expertly enough?” Reyder asked her followers sarcastically.

In a comment to TJournal, a tech and social media news outlet, Channel One’s own press office didn’t deny the veracity of the exchange, but insisted the approach was not sexist in nature. However, their explanation didn’t offer solid support to that claim:

Два корреспондента — молодой человек и девушка – планируют продемонстрировать мужской и женский подход к экономии. При этом девушка советуется с мужчинами-экспертами, а молодой человек — с экспертами-женщинами. Поскольку девушка планирует экономить на поездках, ей предстоит разговаривать с представителем сервиса поиска попутчиков (да, по задумке этого сюжета, а не из-за гендерного неравенства, он должен быть мужчиной).

Two reporters, a young man and a woman, intend to demonstrate the difference between male and female approach to savings. The young woman reporter will be interviewing male experts, while the young man will be interviewing women. Because the woman reporter’s goal is to save on car rides, she will be speaking to a representative of a carpooling service (yes, because of the show’s structure, not gender inequality, that has to be a man.)

How a woman’s approach to savings is different from that of a man, Channel One didn’t elaborate. But the public wasn’t convinced either way, and the TV network's approach was met with criticism.

BlaBlaCar’s CEO Irina Reyder said she was disinvited from the Good Morning show on Channel One by the editor when they found out she was a woman. It’s quite surprising that there are still aspects to Channel One’s madness we haven’t known about.

Despite the significant backlash that Channel One faced online, Russia still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality. Russia ranks 75th among 149 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum's 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, scoring good points for equal access to healthcare and education for women, but lacking in legislation protecting their rights. Russian feminists and their supporters often use social media and satire to shine a light on sexist customs and practices.

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