This is where it starts, boss!

Originally published in Dagens Industri on March 9, 2022

How did you celebrate International Women’s Day? In Dagens Industri, you could read about the annual survey of gender equality on the Stockholm Stock Exchange, statistics from Wes, and much more. Seminars and discussions were held around the country and the political parties wanted to take the opportunity to emphasize how they work for gender equality as never before.

All that is good and important. But the most important work for better gender equality is not done during a special holiday. It must take place all year round.

It’s a bit like Christmas. There are some sweets and treats left in the days after, but soon everyday life is back, about as gray and dark as it was before the celebrations began. After a few weeks, you can hardly remember the festivities anymore.

But gender equality is not Christmas. Seeing gender equality as a special topic that is discussed once a year creates limited change. Worst case, it can have the opposite effect.

Diversity at leadership levels is not a special topic. It’s a business-critical success factor, all year round, and Swedish company executives risk losing great value in underestimating it.

Business leadership today is not about doing what you used to do. It’s increasingly, and in more and more industries, about leading complex operations in a reality that is changing drastically and rapidly. Understanding it, how it affects the core business, and how customers and suppliers act is at least as important as how a particular product or service is produced. Facit and Kodak are two of several examples of companies that were world leaders in their industry, before they went under after market conditions changed completely. They did not find alternative ways forward, at least not in time. Apple’s founder Steve Jobs is one of several who have described how an organization that becomes comfortable in its position devotes more energy to denying and defending itself against change, than to facing it and seeing what opportunities the change offers.

The risk of turning inward and underestimating change is greater in organizations and groups of like-minded people, as they would rather affirm than challenge each other. Companies with more homogeneous management groups therefore run a greater risk of coping with change less well, and subsequently a greater risk of lower growth and profitability, and, in the extreme case, downfall. Recruiting with a focus on diversity and applying inclusive leadership are therefore critical foundations for increasing the company’s value and opportunities.

Diversity in recruitment is about seeking the right skills in the entire talent pool, not just parts of it, to increase the chance of finding the best candidate for the job. Competence is not about playing golf with the CEO or having gone to school with the owner, but about being able to contribute to the best possible development for the company. When Wes started out in 2011, we were the only executive recruiter with a focus on diversity – the need was urgent then. Since then, we have recruited more than 1,200 leaders into new senior management, executive, and board positions and helped hundreds of companies improve the diversity of their leadership. We see no signs that the need has decreased; quite the contrary.

Among our clients there is a mix of established large companies in various industries, growth companies in tech, and several investment and venture capital companies. We don’t only present female candidates –that would also limit both applicants and the candidate pool. The right person for the right role can be a woman or a person who was born in another part of the world and is called something you have never heard before. But it could also be a white, middle-aged man named Joe. Because it must always be competence that counts the most, not the candidate’s category. And when our clients actively searched for competence and ability to solve the task at hand and lead forward, then 2 out of 3 recruited to management groups were women. Competence for top jobs is certainly available in both genders.

Sweden is one of the world’s most equal countries. Finally, a highly competent woman has been able to become Prime Minister. A girl who grows up in Sweden has perhaps the world’s very best opportunities to become and do exactly what she wants, unless outdated structures, narrow networks, and limiting ideas hold her back.

I hope you had a nice International Women’s Day. But it’s during all the other days that you can really make a difference. By truly taking diversity seriously all year round, in the regular course of business, and in daily life. Can your company afford not to?

Carolina Engström

CEO, Wes


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