Leading a Successful Business Career – How Hard can it be?

On 5 December, Executive search expert Spencer Stuart, together with KvinnoKapital, invited our members to a much-appreciated round table discussion over lunch.

After a round of welcomes and mutual introductions, Patrik Hammar and Jesper Ramsö, both consultants specialised in the Financial Services sector at Spencer Stuart, explained why they arranged this lunch and introduced the guest speaker: Tove Bångstad, Head of the Nordic region for Amundi and Sarah McPhee, board professional and founder of Clusjion, a company that aims to promote inclusive company culture.

The discussion was axed around a few pre-defined themes. Both Tove and Sarah generously shared their experiences and views.

Discussion Highlights

What is needed to achieve attractive managerial roles?

Tove picked up on career planning. Many have slipped on what she calls “banana peels”, by which she means new exciting but unplanned opportunities. Banana peels are great, Tove says, as long as they are contributing to your career. Never take a job because you are flattered. Look at how it fits with your long-time plan. It’s helpful to set goals but be mindful that you do not close any doors on exciting opportunities because of you have drawn too narrow a path for yourself.

How to take the next step to a board position?

Sarah took the lead on the discussion, as she holds several board seats. She shared her own journey, explaining how she got where she is today, regularly courted for new directorship positions. Board work is often overrated and far from glamorous, Sarah stressed. You should be very careful to only accept invitations to boards where you can contribute and that you can stand up for. You can easily be taken hostage by companies wanting to benefit from your personal brand. Your brand is something you should conscientiously take care of and carefully choose how and where you appear in the press and in the public debate. This is particularly true for women, she insists.

Another few pieces of professional advice from Sarah:

  • Dare to be selfish and put yourself at the core of the discussion. Let people know what you are doing and what your ambitions are. People around you will not necessarily notice otherwise.
  • Be generous – services tend to be returned sooner or later and people remember
  • Be flexible and let others take more responsibility for example when you need to take it easy. Help others shine!
  • If you are in a tough spot, perhaps being the only woman on a board or in a management team, remember to separate between the person you are and the role you have. Your role is to speak and act for the good of the company. At the end of the day, companies do not evaluate you and your relations, they look at your competence.

How do we achieve increased gender equality in leading positions?

According to both Tove and Sarah, it is crucial to look at what we, men and women, take responsibility for and what we can do as individuals, regardless of how different workplaces can be. If you are in a position of power, look at what you can do and treat everyone the same.

Given our industry’s strong focus on remuneration, it should not be difficult to steer managers towards a more diverse and inclusive organisation, simply by aligning incentives with that target. Perhaps leaving work early to pick up your kids should earn you that bonus?

Tove also shared her view on quota “I have changed my opinion after having been opposed to it,” Tove said. She now believes it will take quotas to drive the mediocre men out and get a critical mass of leading women in place, or indeed any minorities, which are under-represented today.

How does an executive search company work behind the scenes?

Spencer Stuart encourages curtesy meetings, to build up a relationship with search companies and to keep in contact. In their opinion, men are still much better at proactively building their relationships with search firms than women. Search firms such as Spencer Stuart are keen to expand their talent pool.

Patrik and Jesper also encourage us all to think outside the box when it comes to what roles could be interesting. They also admitted that search firms have an important role to play in this field, encouraging the recruiting companies to open their minds to candidates with somewhat unexpected backgrounds.

Spencer Stuart has put together valuable resources on career building and board membership.

Do reach out to Patrik and Jesper for a meeting, building relations for the longer term. Their contact details along with other search firms we recommend are available here.


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