These were some of the central questions asked Tuesday evening as I spoke to a group of young female professionals in a glass-enclosed, panoramic annex room of the Stockholm School of Economics. The young women were part of Barbro Ehnbom’s “Best and Brightest”, or the BBB network, which brings together rising stars from the university’s economics program to form a professional network. The goal of the network is to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow in the international business community, and the members receive valuable business contacts, scholarships and even job opportunities in China, which is Ms. Ehnbom’s latest scholarship effort.
Each year one of these women is chosen as the “Female Economist of the Year,” and I had the privilege to speak alongside one of the winners, Ambassador Lisa Svensson, on a range of topics concerning leadership, work-life balance and the obstacles women face in the corporate promotion and hiring processes, and especially in establishing an authentic form of personal leadership.
I relish these discussion opportunities because they are not moments where I speak at the group or preach my belief in work-life balance, but instead as a group we help create environments where we listen to each other and share lessons learned. I am not a female CEO or executive, and listening and learning from the panoply of international experiences those young women have had allows me to better understand the challenges that lay ahead for both young professional women and men. I truly believe that in the debate itself lies much of the solution. And together we were able to identify a series of obstacles that present themselves for young people in the workplace, such as avoiding burning out, managing personal life with career, and seeking out appropriate role models and mentors.
In the end, together we concluded what many statisticians and researchers have recently said: that the most effective executive boards or senior management groups are the ones with the most diversity. And not just gender diversity, but diversity in education, life experience, culture and religion. In an interdependent world where many corporations have a presence in more than a hundred countries around the world, being able to relate to others, have empathy and an open mind are critical to success. Being able to lead both from one’s emotional side as well as intellectual side is what the future of leadership will entail, according to many of the young women. Finding role models that emulate those qualities is of utmost importance. And one person mentioned time and again that evening as such a role model was Barbro Ehnbom, the founder of the network. Her passion for mentorship, belief in those young women and dedication to their futures is key to their self-confidence and something we all need more of: women helping other women, and human beings coming to each other’s sides in an increasingly competitive world rife with challenges.