Column: ”Authentic leadership and clear mandates pave the way for more female CEOs”

”I believe that the aspect of having clear mandates and titles on the one hand and women progressing into top positions must be explored further”, Helena Strigård writes in a column.

The Californian biotech industry has lots in common with Sweden’s. Both are characterized by innovative clusters with a strong community vibe.

Dipping my toes into the San Diego cluster a year ago, I felt just like home. And while being part of this community, so many similarities struck me. But there is one that makes me question if we are doing something wrong here in the Nordics in terms of enabling a level playing field for more female CEOs.

It started when I stumbled upon some stats over the percentage of US biotechs led by a woman. It’s at the exact same rate as the Swedish number, 23%*. To be honest, I expected Sweden would be way ahead. We are the land of gender equality, after all, where society, culture and regulations have spurred women to undertake careers for decades. The parental insurance is turning 50 years old in 2024.

So we should be doing better. Why are we not? I dug into this issue and started interviewing women on both sides of the Atlantic. Signing up for CEO networks in both countries, I found the discourse around this topic in California to highlight something important: authentic leadership. This shed light on the importance of accepting a variety of leadership styles as equally valuable.

The key to success lies in authenticity. With such an approach, equal terms are created not only for male and female leaders but also for different personalities and backgrounds. I believe that this will enrichen our industry and open up for more diverse backgrounds, as we accept something else than the stereotype male CEO to be a symbol of someone fit to lead a company.

Acknowledging the importance of authenticity in leadership is not new. I was taught about Logos, Ethos and Pathos in school—Pathos being the element that Aristoteles would link to compelling emotional argu - ments back in the 4th century BC and Ethos being true in those arguments. Showing that you truly believe in the cause is just as important as your facts and figures. Be the change, as a young woman put it, not so long ago.

Still, this does not fully explain the difference. There is another element missing in the Swedish industry by and large. And that is clear mandates. We are a highly non-hierarchical society, with flat organisation structures. This has probably served us well in some respects. We always rank top in innovation scoreboards, and we care about everyone’s opinion in our consensusseeking decision-making. But it comes with a cost, and it is the women that pay for it. In such an environment, where titles and mandates do not carry as much weight as in France, Germany or the US for instance, the group dynamics will be highly impacted by who is perceived as the leader. And this is still the stereotype of a powerful male.

I believe that the aspect of having clear mandates and titles on the one hand and women progressing into top positions must be explored further. Never before have progress been so poor. In fact, we are going backwards, with more women opting out from being CEO or chair - woman, according to the Allbright report of 2022. We lack analysis of why.

Our public innovation agency Vinnova as well as The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise are well suited to pick up this call for action. Meanwhile, the Swedish biotech community should work to connect and learn from biotech hubs across the world, also in the areas where we believe ourselves to be in the forefront. We might be surprised by what we find.

* Unpublished data from SwedenBIO, The Swedish life science industry organisation and data from BIO International’s report Measuring Diversity in the Biotech Industry – Tracking Progress in small and large companies, page 16.

Artikeln är en del av vårt tema om News in English.

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