It was 7 a.m., and Yulia Barinskaya had been up for two hours. She’d made breakfast for her six-year-old daughter and breastfed her youngest. She opened her laptop, sat up straight, and signed into Zoom. The call was the fifth and final round of interviews with one of Russia’s top tech companies. The process lasted more than three months.
But the call didn’t come with good news. They would not be offering her the position.
“The unofficial feedback was, ‘We decided to take the other candidate because you have a baby,’” Barinskaya recalls. “The HR rep wanted me to understand that although I was completely competent for the role, they thought it was impossible to have a baby and a career in a quickly growing company.”
That call, which Barinskaya describes as “devastating,” became the catalyst for her next career moves. The Russian native and mother of two channeled her disappointment and focused on three things: staying in her senior role with the tech company Luxoft; launching her own startup; and applying to the MSx program at Stanford GSB. “I told myself, ‘I either get into the best business school, or I don’t go.’”
Over the course of the following nine months, Barinskaya launched Tony Tots, a children’s clothing line that employs working mothers and, through its social media accounts, provides parents with resources about healthy work/life balance.
“I kept thinking about that call and about women and how we need to have choices where we can build our careers and raise our babies,” Barinskaya says. “I wanted to make big changes. I still do.”
Barinskaya launched the e-commerce site for Tony Tots on December 1, 2021. And 11 days later, she got the call from Stanford.
“In that moment I forgot about my business and only felt pride that I had managed to get into Stanford,” she says. “I had tried to be so risk averse; I think at some point I’d lost faith that it was possible.”
Barinskaya will graduate with a master’s in management in June.
What was it like for you once you arrived on campus?
For the summer quarter, I had both of my daughters on campus with me. It was wonderful, but very challenging. Not only was it the first quarter, when I was trying to get to know the 85 people in the MSx cohort, but I was selling our clothing company at the same time. Every day I woke up at 5 a.m. because at 6 I had negotiations with potential buyers. I was balancing social demands, trying to sell a business, parenting, keeping up with my studies, and managing immigration paperwork.
Then my children went back to London to be with their father and my parents. Right when I had gotten accepted, they’d told me, ‘This has always been your dream. Go for it. We’ll help you.’” None of this would be possible without their amazing support, so for the fall quarter I was on my own. I would arrive home and no one was there.
It’s equally hard to have kids on campus, and to be without them. The MSx cohort has a great representation of mothers who are studying right now. Everyone has a different setup and different story, but everyone says the same thing: It is hard. You have five jobs at once.
Has it been worth it?
One hundred percent. I’ve met the most amazing people and built strong connections with reputable professors and lecturers. I was hungry for knowledge and learned a lot. Most importantly, I proved to myself that everything is possible no matter how hard it can be. I must say the whole experience has also united us as a family.
What have been some of your nonacademic goals during your time here?
I really want to lead by example when raising my children. I want them to see that how, with support, I pursue my dream, no matter how hard it is. My youngest is too small to understand the value of being at Stanford. But she wears her Stanford sweatshirt; she has spent time on campus. My older daughter spent the summer quarter here and watched how I go to school, do my homework, and sees how I am dedicated to something.
Over the summer she quickly found a friend, the daughter of my classmate. The girls are close friends. Just last week I was saying how a part of me is sad that this quarter will be my last and how much I will miss this place. She said, “Don’t worry mom, you’ll be back to visit when I’m a student here.”
Where does your entrepreneurial drive come from? Who has influenced you?
My upbringing laid the foundation for me to be an ambitious woman with a can-do attitude. My father is an entrepreneur and an example of a successful self-made businessman who achieved everything through hard work and dedication.
Successful investing or corporate development careers were always my north star. However, I wanted to give entrepreneurship a try by not only calculating return-on-investment, but also by being able to hold a product that I’d made, assemble a team, work on my own marketing campaign, and learn the hustle of doing business. It was a great experience. I’m grateful to my team: we achieved a lot in a relatively short time. I’m proud that I wasn’t afraid to do this alongside having another job, applying to Stanford, having a 1-year-old, and moving to a different country.
What are your plans after graduation?
When I came here, I had several hypotheses of what I might do next. I understood that I wanted to build my career and my life after Stanford, but I was exposed to so many opportunities. I don’t feel like I have a solid decision right now, but I love corporate development, corporate finance, and investing. I’m in discussions with several companies about leading certain divisions.
But, for the second time last week, someone reached out to me and offered me a position of co-founder, which is tempting. I took Startup Garage in the fall quarter and haven’t closed the entrepreneur door for myself quite yet. But I’m the kind of person who needs to have a plan.
Above all, my dream is to be a part of, or build, an organization with a culture that’s close to my values.
I want to empower women. I keep telling myself that what I’m doing here at Stanford is a great example of that: Being far away from family and support. It makes for a great answer to a question in a job interview. What I’m doing shows resiliency. Because as much as I’m an ambitious leader, I really value my family.
Photos by Chloe Jackman Studios