Inna Pletukhina (Russia, United States)
Born in former USSR, Inna Pletukhina wanted to become a lawyer, physicist/mathematician while diligently practicing her scales on the piano.
At the age of thirteen, her entire family moved from Russia to the US, where she studied the differences between people’s cultures as well as human behaviour and its impact on international relations and conflicts. Upon graduating from the University of Rochester in New York State with a degree in Eastern Religions, she pursued a master’s degree in conflict resolution with a focus on nuclear arms control and non-proliferation. Having undertaken an internship in Brussels, she enrolled at the American University Washington College of Law through which she obtained her doctoral degree in law.
Being enchanted by the world of diplomacy, she extended her venture and begun her career in Washington DC at the U.S. State Department, as the Foreign Ministry of the United States.
At the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, she developed policy solutions and creative programs to promote human rights in Turkey, strengthen independent media in Central Asia, and build capacity of defence lawyers in Uzbekistan.
Later, at the State Department Bureau of International Security and Non-Proliferation, she focused on the human element of nuclear security. Specifically, she led teams of experts to strengthen nuclear security policies and procedures at nuclear power plants and research reactors overseas. Frequently the only woman in the room, she supported nuclear operators, regulators, and decision-makers to develop safe, secure, and peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology.
Driven towards a more global perspective, she – with the support of the State Department – received a position at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There, she continued cooperating with multiple stakeholder groups on nuclear security at the Division of Nuclear Security. As a communications officer, she executed global communication campaigns to promote nuclear security as an integral part of all peaceful operations involving nuclear or other radioactive material. Simultaneously, she published numerous articles.
She was the head organiser responsible for the first ever IAEA international conference on nuclear law, which was attended by representatives of national authorities, international organisations, and the nuclear industry from 127 countries.
She also facilitated the publication of the IAEA”s first book on nuclear law and coordinated the launch of the IAEA’s first partnership on nuclear law with six universities from Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Jamaica, South Africa and UAE.
Pursuing new ventures, she now works back in Washington as an associate at the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, where she advises governments and companies around the world to develop new nuclear power programs and implement advanced nuclear reactor projects.
She is receiving this award, because she managed to overcome significant obstacles and excelled in highly conservative and male-dominated sectors. Not to forget: in a way, she accomplished her dream of being a lawyer, physicis/mathematician while still diligently practicing her scales on the piano.
Following the hand-over of the award, Inna Pletukhina addressed the public with the following words:
Thank you, MEP Miriam Lexmann;
Thank you Jeanne Christiansen;
and many thanks to the organisers for creating this initiative and for putting together this event.
I could not be more humbled to share this honour with the incredible women that have just come up to this stage and to those before us.
Hearing your stories, getting a glimpse into the journeys you have taken is a privilege and an inspiration; and a lesson…
You might have heard my biography trace my story all the way to Russia. In many ways however my professional career has begun here, in Brussels.
In the hallways of the European Parliament.
I came to Brussels in 2008 for an internship at the European Parliament.
I was so excited! And completely clueless – about what to expect or how to behave.
I was interested in international relations, but my previous experience
- of cataloguing archives at a university library
- or putting together close out packages for real estate transactions
did not quite prepare me for the rarefied air of the high diplomatic circles.
Or really for any human interaction…
This led to a few rather curious situations, but those stories would be more suitable for the reception…
What I do want to share is how one person, my employer at that time, had shaped my professional persona and indeed my perception of myself.
He taught me to walk.
As we moved between committee meetings, coffee meetings and numerous receptions at the European Parliament, he instructed me: “Inna, you are an intern, a trainee, when you walk,
- you walk straight down the middle of the hallway!
- Shoulders back,
- head proudly up and
- looking forward, with occasional glances to the left and to the right.”
While I found his demonstration of these “occasional glances to the side” rather entertaining, it took me years to fully appreciate what he was doing and why.
He anticipated what I have yet to see and to experience- the tendency of women and, especially young professionals, to timid down, to seat behind the seats at the table, to not speak up.
A few years after, I joined the U.S. Department of State.
Starting out as an intern, I transitioned through several positions and to a Foreign Affairs Officer at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour.
All of the sudden, my title obliged me to seat at the table and speak.
For those in other countries that did not have a voice.
Seated across the high-ranking officials of various countries I had to find and steel my own voice to advocate for them.
That is when I felt that – that tendency to timid down, retreat to the seats behind the seats at the table and to walk by the wall.
And that is when I remembered the rather entertaining demonstration of my former employer of those “occasional glances to the side”.
I straightened up and refocused on the mission.
There were many instances when I recalled that experience, until eventually I forgot.
I started skipping those steps of self-doubt before meetings and speeches.
Instead, I simply refocused on the mission – whatever it may have been at that particular moment: human rights or nuclear security.
And that empowered me.
Many would ask me about my experience as the head of delegation for nuclear security, as a woman.
“What it was like leading a team of mostly men and almost always the only woman at the table during meetings with local partners?”
The questions always confused me….because I was not advancing my mission, as a woman; nor was I leading the team or engaging my partners as a woman.
I prioritised what was at stake, because that transcended any individual characteristic or gender. In those encounters I embodied the mission, not myself.
Coming back here, now over a decade after my internship at the European Parliament, it gave me the opportunity to realize the difference between that intern and who I am now, and who I continue to aspire to become.
It is all thanks to the key people and I am incredibly grateful that there were quite a few- who throughout my career shared their guidance and believed in my potential
– and even taught me how to walk.