I have seen a positive trend. Has it been fast enough? No. I’m disappointed that we are not more women in senior roles today. But the world has changed. When I was heading global wealth management at Nordea, we had something called “returns with responsibility.” That was the early days of ESG. We did it because we believed that would deliver better returns. Then, we were ridiculed as the naive Nordics. The development of ESG in asset management is just one interesting example of how things have changed.
When a gender quota was introduced for boards in Norway in the 2000s, I often heard, “We don’t find any good female board members”. But they are there, you just have to look a bit better. Look for good, capable female candidates – I have always found them.
The most dangerous situation when it comes to big strategic decisions is when you very early decide on what’s right. When you have a team where people have the same background and experiences, you will tend to quickly find a conclusion and move on.
It takes time to convince those who have different views. Someone might say, “But have you thought about…” and then it sparks a discussion. It might take more time to align on a decision, but you will feel more certain about the conclusion, as you have gone through all different angles and aspects. This is when the board adds value to management.
There are a lot of things you can do to support diversity in age, ethnicity, and gender, and I try to push that agenda. It’s not about quotas — we should all like to be picked on merit. But we have to be mindful of unconscious biases, because they exist.
It’s also important to focus on experiences. You need people who have worked with different environments and situations.
A very important advice is to take the opportunities when they arise. One tends to limit oneself. When I was pregnant with my second child, I was asked by the group CEO to take on the responsibility as CEO of a subsidiary. I really wanted the challenge and was grateful to be asked, but I felt I had to say no because I would soon go on maternity leave. He encouraged me to think beyond the practical limitations I was seeing. We could plan around them. I ended up saying yes, and it turned out very well.
Both young men and women tend to think, “Can I do this?” But if someone believes in you enough to ask you to take on a bigger responsibility, you should go for it.