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.
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.