Kris­tine An­vik Leach heads Jo­tun In­dia and is one of the com­pany’s first fe­male lead­ers in Asia.

Although fe­male work par­tic­i­pa­tion rates are high, women still lag be­hind men when it comes to lead­er­ship roles.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - SOFIE LISBY

Rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, in­creas­ing rates of ur­ban­i­sa­tion, higher fe­male ed­u­ca­tion and lower birth rates are com­monly cited as some of the rea­sons be­hind in­creas­ing rates of fe­male labour par­tic­i­pa­tion in Asia.

Ac­cord­ing to the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank, fe­male work force par­tic­i­pa­tion rates in East Asia and the Pa­cific are es­ti­mated at 64 per­cent, and in some coun­tries, like China, it is es­ti­mated that 74 per­cent of women work. How­ever, when it comes to lead­er­ship po­si­tions and rep­re­sen­ta­tion on boards, the num­bers de­crease sig­nif­i­cantly.

One of the com­pa­nies try­ing to change this pic­ture is Jo­tun. Es­tab­lished as a pri­vate com­pany in San­de­fjord in Nor­way in 1926, Jo­tun is still pri­vately owned and to­day is one of the largest paint com­pa­nies in the world. While still head­quar­tered in San­de­fjord, Jo­tun is present in over 100 coun­tries with hubs in Malaysia, Dubai and China. A Male Dom­i­nated Com­pany

Although a rel­a­tively male dom­i­nated com­pany (out of the com­pany’s 9,819 world­wide em­ploy­ees, only 1,776 are fe­male, ac­cord­ing to the 2016 an­nual re­port, and the eight-mem­ber board of di­rec­tors con­sists only of men), Jo­tun is ac­tively try­ing to em­ploy more women in lead­er­ship roles.

One of them is Kris­tine An­vik Leach, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Jo­tun In­dia. Be­fore start­ing her ca­reer in Jo­tun, Ms Leach grad­u­ated with a Mas­ter of Sci­ence de­gree from BI Nor­we­gian School of Man­age­ment in 2006. Look­ing for in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­po­sure, she moved to the UK shortly af­ter grad­u­a­tion where she worked within fast mov­ing con­sumer goods (FMCG) in Bri­tish com­pa­nies for four and a half years.

“Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, I wanted in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence so I moved to Leeds and started look­ing for work,” says Ms Leach. “It was so in­ter­est­ing; the re­ces­sion hit the UK shortly af­ter I ar­rived and the mar­ket was in­cred­i­bly tough. For a new grad­u­ate, it was a steep learn­ing curve but I look back at that time with ap­pre­ci­a­tion now be­cause I learned so much.”

While in the UK, Ms Leach met her hus­band and had her first child, and af­ter four and a half years de­cided to move back to Nor­way. In 2011, she joined Jo­tun.

“Jo­tun had kind of al­ways been on my radar,” she says. “The com­pany has a strong in­ter­na­tional pro­file and a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a good place to work. There is a fo­cus on de­vel­op­ment and pro­gres­sion that was and still is very at­trac­tive.”

Af­ter two years with Jo­tun in Nor­way, Ms Leach got the op­por­tu­nity to move to Malaysia to be­come Re­gional Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor for South East Asia and Pa­cific. Af­ter four years, in the mid­dle of 2017, there was an open­ing as Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Jo­tun’s In­dia

op­er­a­tions and she jumped at the op­por­tu­nity.

“In­dia is a huge coun­try and it was a great op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue to work with such a dy­namic or­gan­i­sa­tion and team,” ex­plains Ms Leach.

A Pos­i­tive Re­cep­tion

Jo­tun has been present in In­dia just over ten years and Ms Leach is the first fe­male Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor. “My dayto-day ac­tiv­i­ties re­volves around driv­ing the busi­ness and per­for­mance through peo­ple,” ex­plains Ms Leach. “We have a fan­tas­tic team in place, mak­ing sure we stay fo­cused on the right ac­tiv­i­ties, sup­port strat­egy, grow in line with or ahead of the mar­ket and mak­ing sure that our fac­tory op­er­a­tion is safe and ef­fi­cient and in line with our health and safety policies. A lot of that is also be­ing out in the mar­ket, meet­ing and get­ting in­sight from our cus­tomers to en­sure we stay rel­e­vant and con­tinue to im­prove.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Leach, the re­cep­tion in In­dia has been pos­i­tive, with some deal­ers’ wives even want­ing to come to the shops specif­i­cally to meet her. “I haven’t been here for that long but so far the feed­back has been mostly pos­i­tive,” she ex­plains. “A lot of peo­ple have said that em­ploy­ing a fe­male Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor is a good thing, show­ing that the com­pany is mov­ing for­ward. Some have been slightly sur­prised, I guess, but mostly be­cause it is un­usual, it is not the norm. But in gen­eral, I have been very pos­i­tively re­ceived when meet­ing cus­tomers.”

More Women in Lead­er­ship Roles

Nor­way has one of the most pro­gres­sive gen­der quota policies in the world, with a 40 per­cent quota for fe­male di­rec­tors of listed com­pa­nies. Com­pa­nies that do not com­ply can in the­ory be dis­solved by law. As a pri­vate­ly­owned com­pany, Jo­tun is not obliged to meet such quo­tas, how­ever, it is still tak­ing steps to em­ploy more women in lead­er­ship roles.

“When I was in Malaysia, the ra­tio in the re­gional man­age­ment team was ac­tu­ally 50/50,” ex­plains Ms Leach. “This is some­thing that has only hap­pened in the last 2-3 years but the re­sult is a very dy­namic man­age­ment team.”

She ad­mits that Jo­tun glob­ally still has a way to go. “We are still a very male dom­i­nated com­pany and in­dus­try, and we are prob­a­bly lag­ging a bit be­hind when it comes to em­ploy­ing women in lead­er­ship roles in com­par­i­son to other Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies. But the com­pany is work­ing very con­sciously to change the ra­tio and ap­point more fe­male man­agers, which is fan­tas­tic to see.”

“Gen­er­al­is­ing types of lead­ers based on gen­der is very dan­ger­ous, be­cause fe­male lead­ers are as dif­fer­ent as male lead­ers, but I think one of the most im­por­tant as­pects of any suc­cess­ful man­age­ment team is di­ver­sity. If the mem­bers of the team are too sim­i­lar, you are miss­ing out on a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties. It is im­por­tant to fa­cil­i­tate and ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing so that you can have those valu­able dis­cus­sions. When ev­ery­one is awarded a seat at the table, it has an im­pact on the bot­tom line.”

Not a Lack of Skilled Labour

Ac­cord­ing to a study by The Econ­o­mist, “Women in Lead­er­ship in Asia Pa­cific”, many com­pa­nies com­plain of a drain of mid-ca­reer fe­male tal­ent. How­ever, Ms Leach does not see lack of skilled labour as an ex­pla­na­tion for the un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in lead­er­ship roles. “Not at all,” she says. “There are many qual­i­fied, pas­sion­ate women out there who are skil­ful and highly knowl­edge­able. And if you look at Nor­way, there are more women in higher ed­u­ca­tion than men.”

So why the lack of women in lead­er­ship roles? “It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that the de­ci­sion to go abroad and work in a dif­fer­ent coun­try is not al­ways an in­di­vid­ual de­ci­sion but one that is taken by a fam­ily,” she says.

And com­pa­nies could do more to ac­com­mo­date is­sues spe­cific to women, she sug­gests. “My first day in Jo­tun Malaysia was my first day af­ter ma­ter­nity leave. One of the things we put in place in our Kuala Lumpur of­fice was a breastfeeding room be­cause I had a lot of women in my team. Ma­ter­nity leave in Malaysia is not very long, so I knew that if we had a nice ded­i­cated space where em­ploy­ees could sit and breast­feed, we were more likely to re­tain them af­ter moth­er­hood.”

The move proved suc­cess­ful. “I have al­ready had the con­ver­sa­tion with the man­age­ment team here in In­dia to look at so­lu­tions to make our­selves more at­trac­tive to fe­male ap­pli­cants,” says Ms Leach.


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