In the late summer of 2018 I gave an interview to a reporter from Talouselämä. As such, there’s nothing new about a researcher giving an interview. The interview dealt with women’s difficulties in advancing to managerial positions in companies. Elina Lappalainen, the Talouselämä reporter who interviewed me, had found that there were 37 women among the CEOs of the 500 largest companies in Finland. This comprises 7.3 per cent. In comparison, there are 21 CEOs called Juha.

I told the reporter that I had already given her an interview on the same topic ten years ago. My previous answers could easily be used again, as they have mainly remained the same. Over these years, there have been many other interviews on this same topic.

The advancement of women on managerial paths has been explained in many ways in studies. Some of these explanations focus on women themselves. From this point of view, the problem lies with women, meaning that different development and support measures provided for women are important. Support from a (male) mentor would help. Giving management training to women would be useful. We should support women’s self-confidence and courage during their careers. We should educate women to become master’s in engineering. Few studies have considered these problems from the point of view of men. Should similar measures be provided for them?

Many female managers also maintain an individualistic mindset.

When they are asked about career problems, they often say that they have never faced any. Another typical answer is that it is not about the gender, but about skills. Should we conclude that only a few women have what it takes to lead a major corporation? Hardly.

Regardless of their generality, individualistic explanations are limited. The problem is that they do not address the structural and cultural values, conditions or norms, based on which women build their managerial careers. The cultures and practices of organisations have become gendered in ways that are hard to see and understand. Even the word “foreman” is gender-biased. “Supervisor” would be a much better term.

Success in combining a career with a family is a key career factor.

Employers and employees tacitly assume that the mother comes first, and the father comes second, for example, when talking about parental leave or children who are ill. Social standards should also be addressed. My guess is that the next Government will work on a family leave reform. This reform could be started by strengthening the role of men when it comes to child care.

Diversity will extend beyond genders in future working life. Elina Lappalainen from Talouselämä writes that not only Maries and Tinas, but also Muhammads are missing from the list of CEOs. Let’s not hold our breath while we wait.

Anna-Maija Lämsä
Professor, Vice Dean
Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics

Get latest articles from The University of Jyväskylä’s stakeholder magazine into your email. You can cancel your subscription at any time.