A small number of lucky Kvinnokapital members obtained a seat at an inspiring lunch organised by the CFA Society Sweden “Women in Finance” initiative, led by board member Karin Larsson.
After a short introduction during which Karin presented the CFA Institute and explained what it means to be a CFA charterholder, three speakers talked about their initiatives to improve gender equality and shared some of their personal experiences, as well as a few inspiring pieces of advice.
Ebba Busch Thor, leader of the Swedish Christian Democrat party, accepted her current position just a few weeks before giving birth to her first child. She told us how difficult the decision was at the time and explained how her upside versus downside risk analysis helped her. She realised that there was less to lose than what there was to gain and jumped on the opportunity.
Ebba did have to confront several challenges, not the least seeing her party’s popularity struggle at the time she gave birth to her second baby. She managed to push through, nonetheless, but not without any compromises. Women have to make choices which should be driven by their aspirations, and not those that they believe society has bestowed upon them, she suggests.
This experience is at the root of the first gender-related point out of three, on the agenda Ebba describes today. Women should lead their career their own way, rather than fitting an outdated man-centred mould, or any other externally-set expectations. The theme was strongly echoed by both Sarah McPhee, who has served in executive roles in leading Swedish financial institutions, such as SPP, AP4 and AMF and Emelie Lindén, founder of F-Gruppen, a support network for parents.
After leading a successful career for a few years, when or if women decide to have children, their expectations often clash with reality. Women can have both a job and a family, but they may not be “perfect housewives”, with a spotless house, a home cooked meal and a freshly ironed dress. Something has to give, and each family has to find out what works just for them. For Ebba and her husband, a professional football player, it was essential to keep an active social life amidst their everyday chaos of a home with young children. They applied a “mjukisbyxor” (sweatpants) policy, which meant that friends were invited over, forewarned that the Busch Thor family may dress comfortably and that guests may have to bring their own food.
Along the same theme, Sarah admits that she would never have been able to pull it off, as head of asset management at AMF if she hadn’t had 20 hours of domestic help per week. To make things easier, she doesn’t recommend family planning. Not everything works out the way we expect, especially not when it comes to fertility, birth and family. She urges instead to embrace opportunities, and never to say “no”. When Sarah was considering taking a new demanding job, her husband told her that, if she turned out to be inadequate for the position, it was mostly her employer’s problem. In other words, women should dare to take a leap of faith more often instead of worrying about failing before they even start.
Emelie Lindén, who started her career at PwC and spent a large proportion of her working years since then dealing with numbers, proposes a framework in the shape of a chart. Capacity to work, or energy, is plotted on the vertical axis, and time on the horizontal axis. Most people will work to 100% of their energy potential until problems accumulate, and the level of pressure becomes unsustainable. At that point, people may become sick, and energy levels dip, most often temporarily. Life goes on at a “maxed-out” scale and a series of dips. It may even lead to a full burn out. Growing up, Emelie’s family had a farm where all hands had to be on deck, and the prevailing unspoken culture dictated that “when you are done, you can rest”. What if you are never done?
What Emelie suggests is to keep some energy in reserve, and not reach 100% of power on an average day. When problems arise, people are rested and are therefore able to step up and come out as heroes, when others are crashing. This way of operating is not only more sustainable, but it also allows people to shine and be noticed for the things they do well. Emelie proposes a formula for a successful life, on your own terms: strength + inner motivation + balance
Ebba also emphasises that sick leave is an issue that is not sufficiently addressed. At the age of 12, she saw her mother fighting off a crisis and come out of it many months later. At the moment, according to Ebba, 383,000 women are on sick leave in Sweden, and she is alarmed by this figure. It may be the symptom of a broader cultural issue. Sick leave may also have lasting consequence on people’s self-esteem and their future career.
According to statistics, women who follow the most “gender-balanced” model are far from “having it all”. Women with the highest level of education and responsibility at work, as well as the highest proportion of time sharing with their partner in terms of parental leave and VAB (staying at home when the kids are sick), also exhibit the highest degree of sick leave. This shows that they may be submitting to stronger pressure, on average, than women who take on fewer responsibilities at work and stay at home with their children more often.
The third topic on Ebba’s agenda is to increase women’s ownership of companies in general. It is well known that women own less stock then men and that the shares they own return less than stock owned by men on average. During the Q&A part that followed the presenters’ individual interventions, the audience debated the need for board quotas. The opinions were divided. Sarah McPhee for example, supported the idea of introducing quotas, given that the “softer” means haven’t moved the proportion of women on boards sufficiently, at least not so far. Ebba Busch Thor, on the other hand, argued that quotas risk making female directors appear less qualified, as their seats would be attributed to the rule, rather than their competence.
While not all questions can be solved in one lunch, the four presentations provided the room with a world of insights and inspiration to drive not only a successful career but mostly a fulfilling and happy life. Many thanks to the CFA Society of Sweden for having provided Kvinnokapital with the opportunity to participate and meet other successful women in finance.