Role models can be very inspiring. Sometimes you find them in the most unexpected places. I read a lot of comics during my early teens. My absolute favourites were the comics about superheroes like The Justice League, the Fantastic Four and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Looking back, I realise that the comics were not only fun, but very formative and packed with values.
The superheroes were a varied bunch. They came in different colours, genders and ethnicities and from different planets. They had cool powers, which they used to save the universe. My absolute favourite space hero was a green guy named Brainiac 5. He wore a purple jumpsuit and his superpower was – being very smart. He came from the planet Colu and had intelligence of the 12th level intellect. Wow, he was my kind of hero. Another favourite was the Agneta Fältskog of superheroes – Saturn Girl. She came from Titan and could read peoples’ minds and she wore the coolest pink boots. She had everything a teenage girl could want.
The comics’ universe was in general a very equal opportunity place. The different people, androids, mutants, aliens and other creatures were valued and respected as equals. It felt like the superheroes made up a kind of UN of the Milky Way, which was packed with human rights values. The superheroes were all, independent of origin, important members of the team, fighting mad scientists and evil space monsters.
I can’t help thinking that we are not always that lucky on the real planet Earth. We sometimes let differences get in the way of promoting talent and may at times have a tendency to overlook the creativity and synergies of a balanced team.
In February, we had the Northern Future Forum in Stockholm. Politicians from the Nordics, the Baltics and the UK met to discuss future challenges and opportunities. One of the subjects on the agenda was how to enable women get into top management and to become entrepreneurs. These days, half of the well-educated talent pool consists of women, so making it possible for women to excel in business should be good for the economy. It simply constitutes an efficient use of our resources.
I had the opportunity, as the female Director of UKTI in Sweden, to participate in a meeting in connection with the Forum. We were invited to Ericsson’s Innovation Centre to have a discussion on the subject of “Women and their role in the ICT sector”. We had a very interesting group of people around the table, including: Prime Minister David Cameron; British experts from the Northern Future Forum – Joanna Shields, Julia Hobsbawm and Helena Morrissey; the CEO of Ericsson – Hans Vestberg and some of his female colleagues from the operative management board; and Anna Caracolias and Mai-Li Hammargren, two female entrepreneurs. Many different thoughts and ideas were discussed around the table. The entrepreneurs talked about attitude, about how important it is for women to be brave, to take business risks and to dare to fail. They highlighted the importance of encouraging young girls to believe in themselves from an early age. Hans Vestberg and his colleagues talked about the strategies and policies that Ericsson uses to create a workplace that inspires variety and equal opportunity.
The Prime Minister was very engaged in the discussions and he also pointed out how important it is to have role models – in this case good female role models. I could not agree with him more. It is inspiring to have good role models – whether it is Margaret Thatcher, Thandie Newton or Anita Roddick is a matter of interest and political colour – but it does put your own life in perspective.
I am not sure that Saturn Girl was the best of role models from a business perspective. I am not sure she would be at all applicable in today’s context. Her pink boots would most probably do fairly poorly in board rooms. However, her mind reading talents would work brilliantly in business negotiations. Nonetheless, I think the superhero values of embracing different people and promoting talents are values that can benefit the economy on this planet. And that is certainly not a bad hallmark for a good role model.