H.E. Satu Suikkar­iKleven, Am­bas­sador of Fin­land to Thai­land shares the fam­ily’s de­ci­sion to move to the Land of Smiles.

The lack of women hold­ing lead­er­ship po­si­tions at Nordic com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Asia is ev­i­dent. How­ever, find­ing the causes and so­lu­tions re­quires a deeper look at the prob­lem.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - CHEYENNE HOL­LIS

Be­fore H.E. Satu Suikkari-Kleven ac­cepted the role of Finnish Am­bas­sador to Thai­land, it was im­por­tant to her that this was a de­ci­sion sup­ported by her fam­ily.

It was a great op­por­tu­nity, but it would also mean her Nor­we­gian part­ner would have to put his ca­reer on hold for their first year in Thai­land to take care of their daugh­ter and help the fam­ily set­tle.

“My hus­band has been amaz­ing. He was sup­port­ive of the de­ci­sion to take this po­si­tion even if it meant he wouldn’t be work­ing,” Ms Suikkari-Kleven ex­plains. “He is an en­tre­pre­neur and a pho­tog­ra­pher, so it was a eas­ier for him to do this. Still, it was im­por­tant to have his sup­port dur­ing this time.”

Fam­ily is­sues can play a key role in women de­clin­ing to take lead­er­ship roles abroad. Many peo­ple hold the mis­con­cep­tion that it is dif­fi­cult to have or main­tain a fam­ily when work­ing out­side of their home coun­try. There are chal­lenges, yet these can be over­come.

“Many women see tak­ing a lead­er­ship po­si­tion in Asia as an ei­ther/ or de­ci­sion. They ei­ther need to choose fam­ily or ca­reer and this is not the case,” Ms Suikkari-Kleven points out. “When tak­ing a job in a coun­try like Thai­land, you may worry about things like build­ing a new net­work and how your chil­dren will adapt. When we first moved here, we had these wor­ries. The first week was tough.”

Ms Suikkari-Kleven says the tran­si­tion for her fam­ily in Bangkok was quite smooth over­all af­ter the first week. She found a num­ber of net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to help build a sup­port sys­tem. She also found an in­ter­na­tional school for her daugh­ter where new friends were quickly made. And with her hus­band pro­vid­ing sup­port at home, the fam­ily grew com­fort­able with their new life in Bangkok while Ms Suikkar­iKleven was able to pur­sue her du­ties as am­bas­sador.

“Nordic coun­tries are tra­di­tion­ally more in­clu­sive when it comes to gen­der roles and the fam­ily dy­namic. My hus­band didn’t see stay­ing at home with our fam­ily as a neg­a­tive,” Ms Suikkar­iKleven de­tails. “He viewed it more as an op­por­tu­nity. He was able to spend more time with our daugh­ter and help our fam­ily es­tab­lish it­self in Bangkok. If women have this sup­port and un­der­stand the tran­si­tion isn’t as dif­fi­cult as they may think, more may con­sider tak­ing on lead­er­ship po­si­tions in Thai­land.”

The dis­con­nect Even if women from Nordic coun­tries had the fam­ily sup­port re­quired to make the pro­fes­sional jump to Thai­land, lead­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties seem to be lack­ing. Look­ing at the big­ger pic­ture, there is a dis­con­nect be­tween the hir­ing prac­tices of Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies do­mes­ti­cally and in Asia.

At home, Nor­way is lauded for its fe­male work­force par­tic­i­pa­tion rates and in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment. The gov­ern­ment en­acted quota leg­is­la­tion that re­quires 40 per­cent of a listed com­pany’s board to con­sist of fe­male di­rec­tors. This num­ber does drop slightly for non-listed com­pa­nies, but the num­ber of women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions is among the high­est in the world. Ms Suikkari-Kleven adds the story is sim­i­lar in Fin­land as well.

Mean­while in the Asia Pa­cific

re­gion, Thai­land has the third-high­est rate of women in se­nior lead­er­ship po­si­tions trail­ing only the Philip­pines and In­done­sia. With busi­nesses in Thai­land and Nor­way both em­ploy­ing a large num­ber of women in se­nior roles, it would make sense for that trend to carry over to Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies in Thai­land.

Un­for­tu­nately, that isn’t the case. Most women qual­i­fied for man­age­ment po­si­tions run into an­other, much larger is­sue. Many Nor­we­gian firms with op­er­a­tions in Thai­land tend to be in what are con­sid­ered male-dom­i­nated in­dus­tries such as fish­ing, ship­ping and oil and gas.

There are a few women in Asia who were hired for man­age­ment po­si­tions in some of these in­dus­tries, but ul­ti­mately the num­bers still lag. In some ways, the sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar to what Ms Suikkar­iKleven en­coun­tered when she first en­tered the Finnish for­eign ser­vice back in 1998.

“I re­mem­ber when I started, there were not that many fe­male am­bas­sadors. Dur­ing the past 20 years, the num­ber of women en­ter­ing the for­eign ser­vice has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly and now you see a lot of fe­male am­bas­sadors,” Ms Suikkari-Kleven says. “Re­gard­less of the pro­fes­sion, it is im­por­tant for women to see a ca­reer lad­der where they can reach the top. If there is a glass ceil­ing or lack of women in the in­dus­try’s work­force, it will be a lot harder to at­tract and re­tain qual­i­fied can­di­dates.”

Thai­land is cur­rently fac­ing a sim­i­lar prob­lem. While there are plenty of women in se­nior man­age­ment and ex­ec­u­tive roles in cer­tain in­dus­tries, they re­main se­verely un­der­rep­re­sented in oth­ers where there are lim­ited fe­male lead­ers.

“Ac­count­ing ac­ces­si­ble to women in Thai­land, and there­fore they have been able to ad­vance in this sec­tor and are highly vis­i­ble across sev­eral lev­els of jobs,” Ms Vo­ra­van Tara­poom, chair­per­son of BBL As­set Man­age­ment Com­pany, told Bloomberg in 2017. “The chances are bet­ter for women to ad­vance to the high­est lev­els.” Build­ing new foun­da­tions

Fam­ily sup­port and clearly-de­fined ca­reer lad­ders are im­por­tant to en­cour­age more women to ap­ply for lead­er­ship po­si­tions in Asia at the present time even if this won’t solve the prob­lem en­tirely. Ul­ti­mately, gen­der equal­ity in man­age­ment, both do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, is only go­ing to be ac­com­plished by build­ing bet­ter foun­da­tions.

Ed­u­ca­tion will play the most im­por­tant role in this change. There are many fields or pro­fes­sions that are seen as be­ing ei­ther male or fe­male. This causes sig­nif­i­cant im­bal­ances of par­tic­i­pants that even­tu­ally leads to gen­der dom­i­nance in the in­dus­try at the man­age­ment level.

“In Fin­land, we are try­ing to in­cor­po­rate more in­clu­sive learn­ing ideals. More women are be­ing en­cour­aged to study math, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, dis­ci­plines that his­tor­i­cally lack fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion,” Ms Suikkari-Kleven re­ports. “It is im­por­tant to break the tra­di­tional male/fe­male di­vide. The early re­sults have been promis­ing and you’re see­ing more young women learn­ing how to do things such as coding which will hope­fully lead to them pur­su­ing ca­reers in tech­nol­ogy.”

Nor­way is cur­rently try­ing to find ways to end its own prob­lem with un­even dis­tri­bu­tion of women’s ed­u­ca­tion choices. The re­sults of a study spon­sored by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion found the per­cent­age of women study­ing in what were deemed to be “typ­i­cal” fe­male dis­ci­plines were high. For ex­am­ple, women com­posed 75.8 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion study­ing teach­ing, train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion sci­ence while 81.8 per­cent of peo­ple study­ing health and wel­fare were women.

On the other hand, “typ­i­cal” male fields of study had low fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion rates in Nor­way with only 26.3 per­cent of those study­ing en­gi­neer­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­struc­tion be­ing women. The per­cent­age of women study­ing sci­ence, maths and com­put­ing was slightly bet­ter at 35 per­cent, but there is still sig­nif­i­cant room for im­prove­ment.

“If we are to have more women take lead­er­ship po­si­tions at Nordic com­pa­nies that op­er­ate in Asia, we need to en­cour­age them to study in the fields where they are cur­rently un­der­rep­re­sented,” Ms Suikkari-Kleven notes.

In ad­di­tion to im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion, in­spir­ing women to ei­ther study abroad or ap­ply for jobs out­side of Nor­way ear­lier in their ca­reer could lead to them be­ing more com­fort­able tak­ing lead­er­ship po­si­tions in Asia later on in their ca­reers. Ms Suikkari-Kleven cites her own life ex­pe­ri­ence as to how this could be pos­si­ble.

“When I was in school, I stud­ied out­side of Fin­land. I think when you live out­side your home coun­try, ei­ther when study­ing or ear­lier in your ca­reer, you gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what the ex­pe­ri­ence is like,” Ms Suikkari-Kleven says. “When you reach the point in your ca­reer when you’re ready for a lead­er­ship role, the de­ci­sion to take a job in Thai­land won’t be as scary if you al­ready have a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence.”

PHOTO: EM­BASSY OF FIN­LAND

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