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On the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, Sirine Fodstad, CEO Grieg Maturitas shares her thoughts about equality and diversity, people that have inspired her, and what equality means to her.

Today we mark International Women’s Day all over the world. What does this day represent to you?

– To me, the day itself is important both to raise awareness about gender and diversity issues, as well as and allowing us to celebrate progress and identify challenges in this area. Every year on this day, I enjoy the debates in the media and the updated statistics of how far we have come on our gender journey.

You have an impressive background both from the public and private sectors. Have you ever experienced inequality during your working career, and to what extent has this affected you?

– Thank you, I have been very fortunate to have lived in six countries and worked within many industries and organizations. Earlier in my career, I have experienced being surpassed by less qualified male colleagues just because they were pals with the boss, and I wasn’t one of the “boyz,” whereas I had to work twice as hard to get the same reward. I believe, however, that in a way forced me to change my attitude, and I learned to use being female as an advantage. In my experience, women are more often tuned into emotional intelligence than their male counterparts, which is a competitive advantage that I’ve spent years developing.

– If you are able to read between the lines that is a very useful skill within any organization. And albeit I think that’s a skill that both men and women can develop, I have seen more women with that ability than men. So for me, that became a strength as I could read the scenarios better and create opportunities for myself.

In earlier interviews, you have stated a clear message that companies and organizations need to work more professionally with diversity and equality between the sexes. Why is this so important to you, and in practice, how should leaders work with these topics?

– By having a diverse set of people around you, you are more likely to have raised the potential risks and angles and hence make better decisions because you are more well informed. Also, I believe leaders should challenge the status quo, and surrounding yourself with lots of people who all think alike will probably not give you as much progress as inviting people to ask questions and challenge the way you do things.

Would you share with us your female or male role models? Has anyone inspired you in your working career?

– Many people have inspired me in my career, and mostly those who have been able to be empathetic and wise at the same time. My role models are strong, independent women, such as Christine La Garde and Angela Merkel, because they break barriers in traditionally male-dominated areas. My role models are also those who are not trying to paint a too rosy picture of superhuman beings where you can have it all and that the road to the top is easy. Most of all women, I admire my mum; she was, in her professional career, and still is, a value-driven hard working individual. Above all, she taught me that honesty is the only way, so always state your mind and be honest.

How do you think business leaders today should work with and address equality, diversity, and inclusion?

– I think we should stop making a point of it and make it a natural part of business as usual. If we continue to make a point about “she is a foreigner,” or “he is gay,” or “she is older than everyone,” then these definitions seize to become labels that brand people. I’ve been lucky enough to work in international organizations with all nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, and gender – and the organizations where you get the best of people is where you see past the labels and see what strengths and capabilities everyone brings to the table.

Equality to me means the best person gets the job, regardless of gender. It means I get paid the same salary a man would get paid, and I am quite sure I have been in roles where I got paid less because I was a woman.

You are leading a management team that only consists of women. Any comments?

– That is a fun fact indeed. We definitely need at least one man in there! I know I picked the best candidates for the jobs I hired, so I’m very pleased with my team, but I hope we can expand it with more diversity soon, and maybe not just gender. I am lucky to work in a family-owned business where the women have a strong presence so that we can celebrate that fact for sure!

What do you believe we have to do to recruit more women in positions traditionally held by men and vice versa?

– I think we have to start in the education system by providing and supporting the teachers and professors with the knowledge of what’s out there, what’s possible. When students ask for career advice at schools and universities, they have presented all professions, regardless of what’s traditionally seen as “a man’s job” or a “woman’s job.” That’s where the journey begins alongside parents’ responsibility to encourage their kids to choose activities for both genders. At work, we should talk openly about it. We need more diversity and make it a criterion if that’s the right thing to do, but often just raising awareness and stating clear objectives around diversity will help you a long way.

Are there any women you particularly would like to cheer for, celebrating this day?

– Yes, this year, I want to cheer for all the health care workers and teachers around the world who have had their work turned upside down in this covid time; I take my hat off for the way they have handled all the additional work. This pandemic has caused! I also have a special place in my heart for all the women who are not safe in their own homes, who have had to endure terrible times through the lockdown; I want them to see that this day is also for them. Women matter, and we care about women. And these are some of the most vulnerable women, and they need our support.

How are you celebrating this year’s international women’s day?

– This year, I’ve made time in my calendar to watch the fantastic contributions at the SHE Conference – which will remind me of all the brilliant women and men out there putting this topic on the agenda, I may listen to my favorite podcast while I take a walk in the park, and I will definitely call my mum – the best female role model in my life!

This is Sirine: 
Sirine Fodstad is CEO at Grieg Maturitas and has several year’s experiences as a leader from the private and public sectors. She is one of few leaders in Norway with a multicultural background and has throughout her whole career cared for and worked with questions and issues related to diversity, equality, and human behavior.