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Diversity matters – or the art of embracing being an odd creature

Pernilla Jonsson
Pernilla Jonsson 

Head of Consumer & Industrylab

Diversity matters – or the art of embracing being an odd creature

At Ericsson I would say that diversity is built into our organizational DNA. When you come to our head office, this diversity reflects in all the different nationalities wandering our corridors – a big international airport comes to mind. Still, one thing that dominantly characterizes these employees is the fact that most of them are male. And in a way this is natural. Our industry is one of the most tech-heavy in the world. Tech professions and roles, all kinds of engineers, data scientists, and programmers dominate our organization. As men predominantly populate these educations and occupations, the consequence is that women are in the minority at Ericsson. Regardless, we try hard to adjust to the numbers. We work hard to inspire young girls to become excited about tech and choose a science type of education and we encourage female graduates to work with us.

man working with VR


Embracing your true self – the heart of diversity

None the less, I would describe the current typical Ericsson employee as a male usually dressed in business suit with and a tidy shirt. For me – a blue-eyed blond woman currently choosing to dress in black leather pants – I definitely stand out from the crowd. Moreover, I have a bubbly and energetic personality and love to play with words, joke a lot and laugh out loud. I am quite direct - no one needs to ever guess what I am thinking. It shows. Someone once described me as a cute cocker spaniel on the outside and a bulldog inside. And that is just on point! The best career advice I ever got was just to be myself. And a long time ago I decided not to adapt, but always bring my true self to the table. For good and bad, I am me. But I have also decided to always try to take the very best of my self to the table so that I add to the puzzle.

And indeed, one of the things that I am most fascinated with at Ericsson is how diversity adds to the game. Often when I eat lunch with my co-workers from different corners across the world, I get reminded of this. Like when eating with one of my favorites, the brilliant Head of ConsumerLab, Jasmeet Singh Sethi. I might say something quite narrow-minded, to which he gives me a long glare, shakes his head and smiles a little. And then I know that I have been way too Swedish in my mindset. Sweden is great, but let's face it, we are but a drop of the global population. Therefore, at a global company like Ericsson – and perhaps like nowhere else – diversity is key. We need a global mindset to understand and work together effectively.

Adding to the game!

However, diversity is more than just reflecting the global footprint of our company. It is also about competencies and how a new type of competence can add to the game. At Ericsson Research, we are at the heart of tech - envisioning and creating future networks together. Having worked with understanding people & business for most of my career, I am definitely different as a non-engineer. Without a tech background, I have struggled to even remotely understand the tech discussions at research. But here I also discovered I landed in a goldmine. Nowhere else, have people been more helpful to explain the technical discussions to me. My favorite question has become – 'have I understood this correctly now?' And when person I currently am conversing with says, 'yes you are correct' – I still get genuinely thrilled! My boss, Magnus Frodigh, Head of Ericsson Research, usually tries to tell me: "Pernilla, you do not have to understand everything, you have to learn to live with the fact that you cannot understand the totality of it all. But strive to understand enough to do a good job." It has taken me time to understand that perhaps none of us do. We all sit with different pieces of the puzzle, and this is what is so great because we need each other and tap into different competencies and abilities to make the very complex totality of it all work.

Diversity is important just because of this – only by understanding each other we can make the sum of the individual people in any organization greater than its parts. And diversity promotes understanding as its very character demands it. Creating an effective organization is about bringing different competencies together. By adding new diverse competencies, we can evolve and thrive.

Without diversity, the world does not only get much poorer and more boring, it also becomes stale and ceases to develop. However, diversity is hard, much harder than working with people who are just like yourself. Truly embracing diversity entails understanding and incorporating something new. It is about making what is NOT business as usual - your business as usual!

The key – Respect, Professionalism & Perseverance

Along my journey with Ericsson, I have often thought of our three values: Respect, Professionalism, and Perseverance. I think these are actually fundamental in holding this diverse, multi-faceted, fascinating company together. To me, professionalism is about always taking on the Ericsson hat and asking yourself what is best for the company in every situation. It is also very much about making the best out of the competence we have at hand – yours and that of others. We need to listen and learn from each other, regardless of gender, nationality or style of clothing. Perseverance to me is to be triggered by taking on challenging work – even if the uphill seems steep. My colleague, Elena Fersman, Head of AI Research said in one of her speeches: "Here at Ericsson we do complex and difficult work, solving difficult and important problems. And I like difficult." Elena, well put! So do I. To solve difficult problems and make the solution look easy – you need to have perseverance, stick at it and not give up until a really great end-result is achieved.

Lastly, we have the word respect - such an important word! Respect in an organization does not mean that there will not be different views nor disagreements. In organizations as complex as ours, there will be conflicts of interests and different opinions especially if people are engaged in their work, passionate about what they do, and are willing to fight for their beliefs. I believe that some of my life's greatest lessons have come from meeting a worthy opponent – who put up a good fight and helped me develop into a better person for it. Although we might not like it when we are in the middle of a conflict, it is by solving our differences that we go forward. By changing perspective, we may make it just a little easier for ourselves. It is a lot about losing the ego and recognizing that we are part of a greater whole. If we can manage to see conflicts and resistance as potential learning opportunities, we neutralize it and make it less personal and more professional – and also easier to respect.

IWD – Including 50% of the talent pool

To me, diversity is important on so many levels. And this day, International Women's day, March 8, is not really about only women but about human rights. I do not think we can talk about 50% of the population without talking about the other half. Because if we do not, we will not change anything. Why should things change? Are things not as good as they are? Do we really want to become fully equal? When I was at MWC 2019, I saw a really interesting example illustrating the importance of gender equality. It was a pitch from a Pakistani startup who wanted to provide easy access to healthcare to the female population. This woman showed a statistic: 77% of Pakistani female medical doctor graduates never work after their education. Read that again - 77%. What a waste! And since Pakistani women need to see a woman doctor when it comes to more personal examinations, their access to sorely needed healthcare becomes very limited.

To me, if 50% of the talent pool is excluded from working at all, then we are really wasting talent. Further, we will only have 50% of the total talent pool choose from for leadership of our organizations. If women are not represented equally to men in executive positions in corporate or public life, we not make the best decisions since we miss out on tapping into 50% of the accumulated personal experience of the world. A best guess would be that the world will have much less of an uphill battle to become a better place if we include 50% of the population in shaping it.

Balanced parenthood - becoming human first and gender second

In striving for equality we cannot ignore the question of parenthood and how to balance private and work life. As a Swedish woman, I realize that I am very privileged. I am born to a country which is one of the most gender equal in the world. Me and my husband shared parenthood responsibilities for our two sons, and he stayed at home taking care of our kids as long with as I did. Paid parental leave in Sweden is one of the best in the world. Moreover, the daycare is fantastic and subsidized, so both women and men can go to work without worrying for the wellbeing of their children or feeling guilty of not being a good enough parent. Our system allows for men to be parents just as much as women – if they make that choice. In spite of this, only a small proportion of Swedish men do this today whereas most men - Swedish or not - do not.

Just as the society is not achieving its full potential when women are not represented in working and public life, society - and more important our children - are equally missing out when men do not take the opportunity of present active parenthood. Present active parenthood from both genders let us experience what it means to live a full life – privately and at work. It makes us all better, both parents and children. We become human first and gender second.

With responsible present parenthood we become better leaders. By taking parental leave and practicing hands-on parenthood, you experience what it means to be responsible for another human being who is more important than yourself. A great chaos factor sets in which will always push your limits; physically for sleep, psychologically for accepting that you cannot control everything in life. As a bonus your empathic skills – understanding another person's situation will get a fantastic boost. All of these qualities are what we need as leaders of this new digital age – stepping away from big brother micromanagement and opening the door to big mother leadership – nurturing love- sometimes tough, with a soft touch!

In my line of work, I have had the privilege and honor of mentoring a few young men. One of these young men, when expecting his first baby, asked me what should he choose – taking parental leave or bet fully on his currently promising position. For women, as we are the bearers of a child, and often breastfeed too, it is quite clear that we do not have a choice – parenthood is physically engraved in our bodies, and the babies are attached to our bodies and its functions long after the babies are born. Some may say this is natures way of telling us that parenting is naturally intertwined with the mother. However, I would say that as humans we can make conscious choices. We are perhaps the only species on earth who have that freedom. I think the question about taking parental leave is not really about career, but rather about what family one wants to have – man or woman? What kind of parent do you want to be? What kind of spouse? How much would you like to mean to your children? And I am sure, no matter how great a company is, at the end of your life, I do not think you will regret having spent too little time at work – compared to too little time with your family and especially with your children: Man or woman.

Embracing odd!

I am really happy to be a working parent at Ericsson. As it's a skype native company, I have worked from home with sick children, skyping and parenting, without anyone ever raising an eyebrow. The respect is there in a way, I have never experienced when working for entirely Swedish companies or organizations.

Working at Ericsson, I am still somewhat of an odd creature, especially if you look at me from outside. And I have learned how to embrace that oddity. I do not want to be any different, and the company, as it seems are only happy to be richer with the flavor that I add. I am extremely proud to be part of this great, fascinating, and challenging organization. When I see my own little piece of oddity adding to a greater whole – that to me is a true blessing. Ericsson is really powerful. Watching it spin its wheels and work its magic is truly an amazing experience. But all the power and impact of this great company comes from the ability to bring all these people, their unique competencies and diversity together, and making us tick together like clockwork. We are nearly 100,000 people from 180 countries. Perhaps I am different, but then again, we all are.

#BalanceforBetter #BettertheBalance

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