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Amanda Lundeteg, CEO of Allbright, on strategies for creating gender equality in business πŸ’ͺ

Amanda Lundeteg, CEO of Allbright, on strategies for creating gender equality in business πŸ’ͺ

Amanda, as the CEO of Allbright, a foundation dedicated to promoting gender equality and diversity in leadership positions, what does “communicate more” really mean to you?

For me, working in advocacy, it’s crucial to make language accessible. Simplifying concepts and making research understandable. I have a wonderful mother-in-law who, every time after I’ve been on TV or spoken on the radio, she always says, “Oh, it was so much fun listening to you! That’s how people understand.” And that makes me so happy because I see it as a vital part of my and Allbright mission – to make complex subjects and concepts comprehensible.

Can you tell us about more about yourself? You mentioned before we started the interview that you went from being an intern to becoming the CEO of Allbright. It’s quite remarkable. Can you share what the journey was like to becoming CEO?

Well, I studied economics at Uppsala University and was a bit late to the game regarding gender equality and diversity issues. I had a somewhat stereotypical view of corporate leaders, similar to what I try to influence today. I thought, “Well, if you’re tough and assertive, like men, you’ll succeed as a woman.” Then, a wise friend studying gender studies fed me a lot of knowledge about structures, norms, prejudices. Gradually, with her guidance, I started to notice things around me.

For example, during seminars, we always assumed the CEO was a man, even though the CEO had no specific gender in the case. I began to realize that, as a non-white woman, I might not have the same opportunities as my male classmates. So, I started googling how to change this and stumbled upon Allbright, a newly established organization listing companies without women in leadership positions. I reached out, offered to help for free as an intern, and got involved. I learned a lot through interviews, started a blog, and eventually, when our previous CEO, Anna, was stepping down, I was asked to be part of the process to become the CEO, and I gladly accepted.

Wow, what a journey! Now, can you tell us how Allbright mission and how it is funded? How many employees do you have, and what the key goals are moving forward?

We were founded by financier Sven HagstrΓΆmer, who is also one of our financiers. Our chair, Mikaela Berglund, was the CEO of an executive search firm, working with executive recruitment. They talked a lot about why the business world looks the way it does, why there are so few women, and decided to explore and address these issues. Sven, being very curious, wanted to understand why, and Mikaela knew there was a pool of qualified women ready for leadership roles.This led to the formation of Allbright with the ambition to examine and show facts. Today, we engage in a lot of discussions, exploring the reasons why women and minorities face challenges in advancing. But we still need knowledge, and we also need to highlight the actual situation. Many know about the underrepresentation of women, but they don’t realize how bad it actually is.

Every year, Allbright does a survey on the gender composition of the stock market’s executive teams. Recently, we also looked at skin color to say something about diversity. We examined age and other factors. One part of our mission is to raise awareness and spread knowledge about these issues. The other part is to be present in companies and actually help them progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Why aren’t we gender-equal? There are surely various contributing factors, but could you prioritize them or highlight a few?

It’s mainly because the metrics for men and women are so different. There’s a fascinating study called Hans and Hanna, conducted in different parts of the world. In one version done in Oslo at the Business School among students, two groups were told about a manager. One group heard about a manager named Hans, and the other group heard about a manager named Hanna. The stories were identical, only the names differed. Students were then asked to evaluate Hans or Hanna based on various parameters. For instance, “Do you like this manager?” The results were discouraging because a higher percentage liked Hans. They were also asked if they would go out for a beer with the manager after work, and again, a higher percentage answered positively for Hans.

The study demonstrates that we have these norms and expectations about what a manager should look like, and these norms are based on what has always been – white, older men. It affects us in ways we may not even realize. When we look at a CV, we’re influenced by these biases. It’s often mentioned that women need to be more confident, but it’s challenging when the metrics for success differ. A man can be perceived as confident while a woman in the same situation may be seen as too much. These biases play a significant role.

It’s incredibly interesting that the exact same stories with different names yield different perceptions. Why is it so ingrained in us?

Indeed, we are so accustomed to seeing men in leadership positions. Historically, men have held those roles. So, in our minds, I believe that when many people close their eyes and think of a boss, it’s often a man. This takes time to change as it’s so deeply, deeply ingrained in us, and it’s important to be aware that we will judge women and minorities more harshly even when we have the same experience and competence. It’s crucial for recruiters, not least, to be aware of that.

I saw a segment featuring Claudia Goldin, a gender equality expert. She highlighted that when people, especially women, have children, inequality tends to increase. Even in high-stress jobs, women often choose less demanding roles after having kids to prioritize family care, consciously or unconsciously.

But that’s how it is, it’s what we see too, and I’m also almost 40. I’ve had my two kids, and I have many friends who are incredibly aware of these issues. They live with partners who are mindful of gender equality. In my circle, I see exactly thatβ€”it’s easy to slip into old patterns if you haven’t made a plan or decided in advance to share responsibilities equally. When the child arrives, it’s often seen as nice to take parental leave, not always, and one tends to fall into these old patterns because it’s deeply ingrained in us.

Is the main challenge for gender equality primarily related to having children, or are there other factors at play?

Well, when it comes to career, it’s not just about women taking parental leave. Women often opt for part-time work to manage daycare pickups and drop-offs, impacting their income and long-term financial security. While this contributes to the gender pay gap, there’s also the issue of biased recruitment favoring men. Workplace norms and biases create obstacles for women, even though they demonstrate strong performance upon returning to work.

So, what actions does Allbright think employers can take?

We at Allbright think employers should actively assess and address gender imbalances. Companies recognized for gender equality often conduct surveys to gauge employee experiences with inclusivity. While setting numerical goals is essential, cultivating an inclusive work culture is equally crucial. This involves fostering a welcoming environment, eliminating discriminatory behavior, and promoting diverse activities.

How does Sweden’s standing compare globally?

Sweden, once a frontrunner in gender equality, is now facing challenges. The United States and the United Kingdom have surpassed Sweden in both gender equality and diversity in leadership roles. Meanwhile, countries like Germany and France, despite starting with less favorable conditions, have made substantial progress in increasing the number of women in leadership positions.

What could be the reasons behind Sweden’s decline?

Despite historical progress, Sweden appears to be resting on its laurels. There’s a risk of complacency, where achievements are celebrated without recognizing the need for ongoing efforts. This could lead to Sweden being overtaken by countries with a more dynamic and proactive approach to gender equality.

You talked a bit about how companies should work, can you elaborate on this a bit more?

Companies now need to compete with many other issues. There’s a lot of focus on the environment, with many directives related to the environment that companies need to adhere to. But now, there’s also the CSRD directive, and gender equality and diversity are part of it. So, it’s important to monitor companies and ensure they are complying with the directive.

It’s also essential for all employees out there to put pressure on their employers, to ask how they are addressing these issues and if there’s more that can be done. Collaboration in workplaces is crucial because, often, it’s the employees who ignite efforts in such initiatives. It’s the employer, the management, and the board that need to show that these are prioritized issues. That’s when progress happens, but we often see that passionate individuals, employees, are the starting point in such initiatives.

So, everyone needs to work together to exert pressure, and it’s crucial. I think it’s excellent that Claudia Golden is receiving the Nobel Prize now. It contributes to putting these issues high on the agenda again. Also, several countries in Europe will be subject to a quota law. Sweden is exempt, but regardless of one’s opinion on quotas and the threat of quotas, it will contribute to more debates on these issues, I believe.

What do you and Allbright think about quotas?

We at Allbright have always believed in the ability of the business sector to achieve gender-balanced boards on its own. Actually, at the board level, we are doing quite well, at 36%, just 4 percentage points away from the 40-60 gender distribution range. However, it looks much worse in management teams, where we stand at 28% women.

So, progress is happening at the board level, and we are close to achieving gender balance there in a few years. But if progress stalls, as it did when the threat of quotas disappeared for a few years, we are absolutely prepared to reconsider our stance on quotas. It’s crucial that businesses show a genuine commitment for us to believe in them. Allbright sees its role as the business sector’s most critical friendβ€”we push them, but we also believe in their ability, and ideally, quotas won’t be necessary. The best scenario is for the business sector to achieve these goals on its own.

Those against quotas often argue that they won’t get the most competent person for the role. Is that true?

The main argument I often hear against quotas is that women don’t want to be token hire. It may be true in some cases that some women don’t want that. However, I also talk to many women who feel confident in their competence and don’t mind. So, I don’t find that argument convincing. I also don’t agree with the argument you mentioned that the most competent won’t be selected. Looking at quotas in Norway, for example, we see that the collective competence of boards has increased with the entry of women because the women who were appointed had more experience and higher education. So, that argument doesn’t hold either. The strongest argument against quotas, as I mentioned before, is that Sweden has made significant progress in board gender diversity without quotas. It would be great if we could actually achieve that goal and show that it’s possible without quotas.

I’ve heard another argument that women might not want these positions as much, that many women don’t aspire to higher management positions. Is there any research supporting that?

No, what Allbright has seen is that women do want leadership positions. They want to advance in their careers and express a desire for higher salaries. It’s a myth that women are not assertive in salary negotiations, but what we observe is that when women choose to leave their positions, it’s often because leaders question them more and they lack the same internal support within the organization as men feel they have. We also observe that companies often appoint women to positions when they are in crisis, providing them with less favorable conditions for leadership. It’s tougher for women in leadership positions, so it’s not surprising that some choose to leave. We can’t just set ambitious representation goals; we have to create conditions for success in these roles.

Will we ever achieve gender equality?

I’m absolutely convinced we will. One has to be, or else we would just give up on these issues. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, but certain aspects will progress. Compared to when we started, the percentage of women in leadership roles has doubled. So, things are happening, and conversations like this, where people point out that certain comments are not appropriate, whether in a small or large context, move us forward. If we don’t address these issues, we might face a situation like Poland’s, where abortion rights are suddenly threatened.

We need to be vigilant and not take these issues for granted. Maybe we won’t achieve equality in every family, with equal sharing of parental leave, but in the majority of families, we might see more balanced participation. It won’t be uniform across workplaces either, but in some, there might be an overrepresentation of women, and in others, of men. So, in a broader sense, we will definitely be able to achieve gender equality.

Final question is about whether companies should measure this internally. What KPIs does Allbright think companies should follow to become more gender equal and inclusive?

Consider salaries, among other things, for example. Even though I’ve emphasized that it’s not the most crucial aspect of the work, one should still look at representation and track it. Recruitment is crucial; there’s much room for improvement and professionalization. However, the most important thing, I would say, is to find KPIs to measure the culture. This is what our advisory and educational division works on extensively. It’s not just about achieving diversity; one needs to be aware that recruiting diverse perspectives and people with different backgrounds will lead to friction. Leadership needs to handle it, and it’s essential not to expect everything to be easy and pleasant just because there’s diversity. As in any other area, when lacking sufficient knowledge, it’s crucial to seek help from experts, like Allbright, who can provide support.

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