Female expat senior managers in Shanghai discuss upward mobility in the global workforce

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-4 18:33:01

According to a recent report conducted by Catalyst Research, women hold only 4 percent of CEO positions in global Fortune 500 companies. Does this mean that females have less aptitude for running a business? Does it mean, perhaps, that women don't have what it takes to get to the top? Or can it mean that females are purposely being excluded for CEO consideration by company board members strictly because of their gender?

To glean a better understanding of this sensitive topic, the Swedish Chamber of Commerce recently sponsored a conference in Shanghai addressing gender equality in the global workplace. A discussion with three women working at management-level positions in the banking industry - Carina Enocksson, senior vice president & general manager of DNB Bank ASA Shanghai Branch; Niina Äikäs, general manager of SEB Shanghai Branch; and Elin Larsson, client analyst with Swedbank Shanghai Branch - provided audience members at the event with insight into how professional women from China and abroad can smash through the global glass ceiling.

Following their chat, the Global Times (GT) sat down with these three inspirational, progressive-minded women to hear more about issues affecting the world's female workforce.

GT: When talking about quotas, some would argue that there should be a fixed percent of women and a fixed percent of men instead of just recruiting based on competence. What's your take on that?

Elin Larsson: If we really recruited based only on competence then we would have more women in companies. Statistics show that women are equally competent and have all the qualifications. But we have the matter of "leaky pipes" where most women do not reach the top of their company even if they are qualified and competent. When companies recruit at entry level you have a lot of women coming in and then for each level of promotion men are probably five times more likely to reach CEO and two times as likely to reach middle management level. So women just scale off for each level.

Niina Äikäs: Sometimes I think, yes, quotas are the only way to make a difference. On the other hand there are a lot of negative things associated with quotas. I always think we always should have the best candidates that are most suitable. When young women enter a career path they need more support to think more strategically, such as what are their next steps. Women unfortunately tend to get stuck in their routine. They do an excellent job but they don't challenge themselves to a broader picture. I think it would be helpful if we can change this type of mind-set.

GT: Do you think women have to be more man-like to achieve leadership positions, or should they just be themselves?

Elin Larsson: Some women think they need to be more masculine and have body language like a man in order to speak the same corporate language. But I think it can also be an advantage to be the only woman in a group of men because you get more attention. I am very feminine but I can have a sharp tongue. Even if I look feminine I have very thick skin so I don't take any bullshit. That's why I can put my foot down. I don't like to be pushed over. I look feminine but I can sting.

GT: What tailored support should be given to women when it comes to corporate culture?

Niina Äikäs: I think it is very important that the cooperative culture and the structure we have to support women with must be tailored for women. Women need different support in their careers and different type of programs and possibilities to develop themselves. We also need special programs, for example ways for women to enter working life when they have children. This is from the age of 30 to 40, the time span that women tend to step forward for leadership positions. Even if they have taken some time off to have children they can catch up and find their place in an organization.

GT: What advice do you have for women striving for an executive position?

Elin Larsson: Use your network and grab every opportunity when it comes by.

Niina Äikäs: Don't try to do everything at once. Enjoy the moment, enjoy life. There will always be opportunities. If one door shuts it doesn't mean something else is not going to open somewhere else.

Carina Enocksson: If you feel stuck in the middle, look up and out. There is nothing wrong with changing a company or changing your career path. Management support and family support are also two very important things. I am not the most self-confident person, but my drive is stronger than my confidence.

(Seated from left) Elin Larsson, Niina Äikäs and Carina Enocksson discuss gender equality in the workplace in a conference organized by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Courtesy of the chamber


According to a recent report conducted by Catalyst Research, women hold only 4 percent of CEO positions in global Fortune 500 companies. Photo: nipic.com

Newspaper headline: Glass ceiling

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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