By Anita Krohn Traaseth (CEO) and 40 female colleagues at Innovation Norway.
For the twelfth consecutive year UN reports have shown that Norway is the best country in the world in which to live. We top the list of countries that are ranked by the possibility of a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and standard of living. In 2016 we came second best in The Economist's glass ceiling index, which combines data on higher education, labour force participation, wages, child-care costs, maternity leave, paternity rights, representation in management positions and more.
These indicators tell what generations of Norwegian women and men, politicians and organisations have fought for, not only ensures the rights of women in Norway and the strength of our economy: it puts Norway in a unique position. It is a competitive advantage.
Feminism has never been "just a women's thing".
In Norway, we have to a large extent basic rights and conventions in place. This is something that so many other countries lack. But it is not that long ago that women in Norway could not vote or matriculate. A completely unimaginable scenario for our daughters. We should consider the story of Ida Cecilie Thoresen. After attending Nissen Girls School until 1879, she wanted to take the examen artium (the qualifying exam for admission to university studies), but it was not possible as women were not admitted to universities. She then applied to the Ministry of Church Affairs for admission, but was refused. She allied herself with the left-wing politician Hagbard E. Berner, who proposed a private bill in the Norwegian Parliament. On March 30, 1882, the law was passed and in the same year Ida Cecilie took the examen artium with honours. Hagbard Emanuel Berner was also one of the people behind the foundation of Norway's oldest feminist organisation, the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights (NKF), which was established in 1884. Along with Gina Krog he brought together 171 famous women and men, including five Norwegian prime ministers,to, "work for securing the future rights and place of women in society". One of our greatest feminist heroes, Betsy Kjelsberg, was very engaged in economics and leadership. She was not only involved in establishing voluntary associations, but also made the decision to take on senior management roles in the public sector. In 1909 she became Norway's first factory inspector. She had both domestic help and childcare for her six children.
None of this would have been possible without strong pioneering women in collaboration with powerful men in established positions and at home. Feminism has always been about cross-gender collaboration. It has never been just a "women's thing".
Are we done with equality and feminism in Norway?
It takes generations to shape and change women's social roles and status in society. This includes Norway, where on paper we have largely adapted. We are still stuck in gender roles that mean that after finishing education we make traditional employment choices. Norwegian women take more sick leave than men and work more part-time. This has consequences for the Norwegian economy. Very few choose to go into senior management or follow a path in investment or entrepreneurship. We lack women with decision-making and investment power in the private sector. It has consequences for the balance of power in society. Norway is also a society that is constantly evolving, where we are welcoming new girls and women from very different nationalities and cultures who also get the same basic rights that all other women in Norway already have. Their struggle to live out these rights is also our struggle.
What does feminism mean in 2017?
“The most dangerous thing we do is to define feminism as a term applicable to all with content defined by few”, wrote one of my female colleagues when I asked what feminism means to them personally. I could have asked men too, but fell straight into the trap, of thinking that this is about women's views. We are still there. It is women who are interviewed on the front pages of Norwegian media on women's day; very few men.
- “Feminism in 2017 must be understood in the context of many individual cases, moving forwards step by step.It's not about the one big campaign alone, we have many small, important steps to go now”, said one colleague.
- “Feminism is to see the world through glasses that do not distinguish between genders”, said another, “And the most important thing we can do now is to teach our children to have this as a fundamental attitude.”
- “Not going back on the struggle for women's rights and the rights that women before us have fought for, is one of our most important tasks. It is everyone's responsibility to vote, raise their hand, and show that someone cares about the way the world goes”, said a colleague.
None of my colleagues disapproved of the term feminism. But some believe it is more difficult for them to be engaged than it was before. This is both because the fundamental struggle for voting rights and the right to education has been achieved, but also because it is perceived as if the debate is reserved for the few, and to bring in their own "wrong" perspective is a risk. Therefore they stand back.
So what do we do now from a feminist 4.0 perspective? Here are seven suggestions from my colleagues:
1. Each of us must take responsibility ourselves. Both in our choice of career and in everyday life. We must escape the control many of us still face both at work and at home. Drop your shoulders. Lead forward with ambitions, emerge from the "comfort zone" and sign up for demanding tasks and roles.
2. Each one of us also has a responsibility to share with our children as early as possible, what Norwegianfeminist history has given us and the shoulders we stand on.
3. We have legislation and basic rights in place in Norway. But not all women in Norway are experiencing this in their daily lives.
4. Let more men participate in the debates; let them speak as leaders, investors, directors, grandfathers, fathers, brothers, husbands.
5. "Senior management feminism" must also be socially acceptable. It is about power-sharing.
6. Accept that different countries have not come as far as us and that our solutions are not necessarily the right ones for all countries.
7. We have to move forward and set a good example.
We are constantly striving to move forwards in our own organisation. We have 54 percent women in the entire company and 50 percent in senior management. 26.5 percent of our colleagues originate from a different country. On March 7, Innovation Norway enters for the first time a global innovation partnership with UN Women and on March 8, we are promoting female technology entrepreneurs with the prize Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Trondheim.
But we also have areas for improvement. We can use our international offices as ambassadors for value creation amongst women. According to McKinsey, full female participation in the labour market could give rise to a global growth of up to 26 percent by 2025. We can also introduce better rights ourselves, especially in countries where local laws do not provide good rights in connection with maternity leave.
It is a commitment to be a world leader on feminism and gender equality. We must also move forward and demonstrate equality. We really only have to listen to our own king, said a colleague:
"My greatest hope for Norway is that we will take care of each other. That we will continue to build this country - on trust, fellowship and generosity. That we shall know that we - despite all our differences - are one people. That Norway is one,” and maybe we can dare to add: That the world is one.