For me, International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate all the amazing women out there – their strength, their determination and their achievements. But it’s also a day to raise awareness of the challenges and barriers women face and discuss how to overcome them. We can all support this by speaking up when we hear insensitive comments, giving everybody a voice and making sure we always listen and learn.
I’m really inspired by this year’s theme ‘Embrace Equity’ – for me, equity means fair and impartial with the ultimate goal being equality. I can relate the theme of equity to my personal life – English is my third language, so sometimes I need a little bit more time to express myself and it doesn’t always come out exactly as I intended. People need to give me a little more time and also ask me what I mean if they haven’t understood. Otherwise, I might feel that they didn’t listen, didn’t understand or didn’t care to understand properly.
As a woman working in IT and telecoms for over 30 years I’ve faced many barriers in my career. For example when I was relatively young in the 1990s I started as a process engineer at Ericsson, and someone on the same level as my boss said to me (intended as a compliment): “Karin, you’re amazing, despite your four disadvantages”. The word ‘amazing’ didn’t register, I only heard him refer to my ‘four disadvantages’ – so I asked what he meant. He replied: “You’re a woman, you’re young, you’re short, and you don’t look Swedish”. This really shaped me – it was good to learn early on that a lot of people have this perception of me, that they are thinking about these four things instead of focussing on my competence, my education and my experience.
A further example would be when I got quite a senior job, and another internal candidate who was male said to me: “You only got this job because you’re a woman and you’re young”. I asked him how old he was, and when he told me his age it was clear I was older than him, even if I didn’t look it! I asked him about his experience, if he’d worked in this market before, if he had held similar roles, whether he’d worked during periods of recession, etc – and he answered ‘no’ to almost all of these questions. So then I looked him in the eyes and said: “That’s why I got the job and you didn’t”. We need to do more to encourage women to aim for senior leadership roles and this needs to start early, even as early as primary school. We often call young girls ‘bossy’ instead of praising them for showing leadership skills and being assertive.
We need to give them positive feedback that it’s ok to be female and a leader, even at a young age. The second critical stage is the period after the entry level job, where women go into middle management, as this is often when a lot of women will start a family. During this time, women need to be supported to give them confidence when they come back from maternity leave, and offered practical help such as childcare and flexible working hours. There’s also a need to look at the competence gap and make sure development plans are put in place, so that training is provided in the areas that are required to progress into more senior leadership roles.
I’m often asked about the best piece of career advice I’ve been given, and I always say it is feedback. It’s tempting, particularly for women, to take feedback as a failure – but it’s important to rename and rebrand feedback as a learning opportunity.
The person giving you the feedback has put their energy and time into it, and this means they actually care about you and your career – so take it as a development opportunity and learn from it.
It's beneficial for all women, especially younger girls, to look at their career as a marathon, not a sprint. Please enjoy every step of this marathon journey, and make sure it suits your life and your circumstances. Don’t compare yourself to others – it’s your career and it’s your journey. Happy International Women’s Day to all the fantastic women out there!
Chief Commercial Officer