ONE’S “MUSCLE” OF AMBITION NEEDS TO BE TRAINED

“We have many talented women, but they lack ambition to take up top managerial positions, especially on a global scale,” says Evita Lune, Global Partner at Pedersen & Partners in the interview. She is one of the supporters of Novatore Impact Summit. This international forum will take place this year on 22 to 23 September in Riga. Its purpose is to encourage and motivate women to aim for highest goals in their careers by realising their full potential.


 

© Žurnāls "Santa"


What are your main career milestones that propelled you into management?


I am a Partner at Pedersen & Partners, which means that I am a co-owner of a group that has business in 50 countries. On a daily basis, I work in the field of global financial technology, which means working with portfolio of my FinTech clients. I also act as leader of Baltic Team at Pedersen & Partners. We have very strong teams here in the Baltics and I can confidently say that we are the best executive search firm here. I reached this position by working hard and focusing on top quality. It is fact that any work can be done in some way, either well or brilliantly. In my projects, I have always looked at how something can be done better. Constant willingness to do quality work has allowed me to achieve the current level. Of course, my education has also played a role and not only academically – I have a PhD in socioeconomics from the University of Latvia, and I had a wonderful first job at Shell, an international company. It was a great experience, as I learned how to work at a high level and to build a global business. In addition, I also worked at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, as a Director of executive MBA Program. There, too, I was lucky to work in an excellent environment from an academic point of view. This experience encouraged me to create my own example of excellence in the company where I work.


But you had a personal ambition to become a manager, didn’t you? I mean, sometimes people are excellent specialists in their field, yet they never become managers.


I am determined, and I don’t suffer from any self-doubt or shyness. It’s rather the opposite – I’ve always considered that I know everything better than anyone else and can do everything in the best way possible.


It’s still a rather wide-spread behaviour among women that even when they have all the necessary knowledge and skills to become a manager, they start questioning themselves endlessly – will I really make it? What would your advice be to these people?


I absolutely agree. Also in my work, I have noticed that ladies look to find fault with themselves more often and tend to be too self-critical. My advice would be – one’s “muscle” of ambition should be trained just like we train our body and mind. The best way to do this is to simply start applying for different jobs above and beyond your comfort zone. For example, it often seems easier to call only people whom we know, opting for a kind of a “back-office” position, just to avoid confronting someone new and avoiding any risk. It is all nice, easy and familiar. However, this is not the position that leads to career success. The good news is that the problem can be solved. I also used to have problems starting a conversation with people whom I didn’t know. I got rid of this complex when I worked in my clothing store – there, I had not only to say hello to strangers but also to ask how I could serve and help choose what fitted them best. As a result, I got wonderful energy from these conversations, and my shyness in talking to strangers disappeared completely. However, if we continue not to do something and refuse to step out of our comfort zone, we don’t actually realise our potential and what we lose in our lives by doing this.


Women also sometimes stick to the precept that they have to choose between family and career. Are these two things really so incompatible?


In our family, we have raised four children. Personally, I’ve never taken long breaks or holidays, even when the children were very little. I don’t want to say that there were no difficulties, but everything could be done and planned. Among my female friends, there are some who have raised even seven children and have achieved even more in their careers. I think that the family gives an additional impetus to achieve more, to be a model to one’s children, be an equal partner to one’s husband and overall be a balanced person, not a bundle of unhappiness. I have seen lonely men who seem to have all the time and resources in the world to gain the highest achievements. Yet, after some time, it can be seen that a person has become unmotivated and destructive, suffers a preventable burn out or gives in to bad habits. I don’t have time for anything like this, as I have different responsibilities. Therefore, I’d like to say that family and career are complementary. Personally, I can say that if I had to only do household work and could not socialise and express myself intellectually, I’d be very unhappy. Hence, the myth about choosing between career and family is very obsolete. Today, we don’t even speak about work-life balance anymore; we talk about an integrated life which includes all aspects of happiness. This is the aim that we should strive for.


What advice would you give to a woman who has no shortage of career ambitions, who has not yet reached the very highest level of management, but who is forced to face discrimination on her way there, ranging from silly remarks to purposeful ignoring of her opinion, showing that women cannot play in the same league as men in their careers after all?


One should add that here, in Latvia, this problem is less pronounced than, for example, in Central Asia or Latin America. However, if you find yourself in such a situation, firstly, I’d suggest, developing your skills above that of all male colleagues and, secondly, expressing your opinion in any situation where it is possible – be loud and visible, yet try not to fight with the same weapons as men. You should work with all your personality and appreciate what nature has given you as a woman. It is important to be competent, visible and strong with the management skills that women have acquired, but there’s no need to fight with men in their own territory. On the contrary, a woman should find a way to be respected as a manager and an opinion leader by staying true to who she is and realising and using her strengths.


This summer, the European Parliament adopted a directive which states that at least 33% of a company’s board should be made up of women, while in a council the share of women should be 40%. What does this directive mean to women and labour market in the Baltics?


Our global clients, which are listed companies with over 250 employees in countries such as the UK, Ireland and Germany, have been working according to these principles for some time already without awaiting the adoption of the directive. Besides, ladies should be represented accordingly not only in the final result but already in the search process, for example, if we have 10 final candidates at least four should be women, otherwise, these companies don’t even accept the shortlist. But this was not the case some time ago. First, this is a real opportunity for female applicants to be considered as potential candidates for a position. Second, this is also an opportunity to improve the company performance, as studies show that in companies that have women on their boards the performance, effectiveness and sustainability improves. Thanks to the presence of women, the management team is less aggressive, destructive and competitive. There are cases where men are ready to even sacrifice their business just to show their ego and their victory. The presence of women has a balancing and calming effect. We have also seen this in our company – there are three women in the Pedersen & Partners’ governance of 15 partners.


I have read a study which found that, by anonymising the candidates’ questionnaires, the share of women in leading positions increased even by 70%. Can you comment this?


Our executive search services are mainly used by companies which have high governance standards. We rather have the opposite situation, as these companies ask us to provide women, but we sometimes have difficulty in finding and attracting them.


What are the reasons for this?


We focus on top leadership positions, i.e. CEOs, CFOs, TCOs. Female finance, marketing and HR directors can be found easier, but women are few and far between at the very top. We have many talented women, but they lack ambition to take up a top managerial position, especially on a global scale.


What should a woman who sees in herself both the skills and potential to take up a top management position do? How does she go about it with confidence?


First, signal her willingness to take up a managerial position by making it clear when the time is appropriate. Second, consider her current job from the following point of view: maybe it will not be possible for her to take up a CEO position, maybe the company is still too large, and then it would be useful to look around for smaller companies where it would be possible to gain this CEO experience. Third, consider her own skills and understand what is still missing. At the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, Exexutive MBA program consisted of 12 courses which formed the basis of what each CEO should know. Here, one should not fall to the opposite extreme, as many women are very diligent students and, with a true achiever syndrome, who are ready to pursue degrees one after another without finding any practical application for them in their careers. It is also very comfortable – to study just for the sake of studying, yet, it is also necessary to work in practice so that knowledge brings the added value. Among the skills that should certainly be acquired by a CEO nowadays I would certainly mention digital and technologies; without having them a person excludes themselves not only from management positions but also even from higher yielding jobs in labour market in general. One should certainly follow the latest trends, where necessary, by learning how to use modern technologies from, even from your own children, but this must be done.


They say that we have many smart, educated and ambitious women here, in the Baltics. Therefore, it is a bit surprising that there is still a shortage of top managers to attract.


In general, the situation here in the Baltics is very good. We, the women, have all the possibilities available, in modern companies there is no gender discrimination and applicants are judged on their knowledge, skills and ambition. In Latvia, we have a Unicorn company, and there are also others with the same potential. So I’d suggest pursuing one’s career in a company which is modern, open and meets sustainability standards. It is useless to try to make something successful in a company that is rotten at the core. If it is led by sort of old men's club with rigid backward thinking, don’t struggle there; go to a company which works based on other, modern standards and values. There is always a possibility to consider setting up one’s own company where you will be able to create and lead just the way you want. Only here, one should bear in mind that a small, undetermined company will, most likely, not become a Unicorn, as it lacks ambition. It is important to look at the specifics of one’s company at least regionally, if not globally.


Why is it important for you to support the international NOVATORE Impact Summit for economic empowerment of women, which will take place on 22-23 September this year?


I want to inspire other women to become the best version of themselves and achieve more in their lives and careers. For us, proper governance principles are very important. Participation and inspiration of women is a great example of proper governance. I am glad that Latvia and our entire region in general is moving in the right direction. I see this event as a contribution towards us becoming an advanced and democratic society. Personally, I have never encountered the attitude that, because I’m a woman someone would consider that I cannot do something in my work or that I’m missing something because I’m from Latvia. We sometimes undervalue our freedom. If anyone has doubts about this, go to Afghanistan for instance and try to live there. It is silly to miss the opportunities that we have! Besides, there is also an obligation towards our country that has given us the opportunity to educate ourselves and raise our children. Even more so, because Latvia is small and not among the richest countries where women can afford to live at men’s expense. Let’s build our riches together and not be lazy and just consume! If we want our country to be prosperous, then we have to work – not with shyness and modesty, but with pride in ourselves and our achievements.

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