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Ericsson CMO: Diversity Is Critical to TransformationEricsson CMO: Diversity Is Critical to Transformation

Everything is changing in the comms space and Helena Norrman, Ericsson's CMO, says that having a diverse workforce is one way to ensure companies can transform and thrive.

Sarah Thomas

November 16, 2015

8 Min Read
Ericsson CMO: Diversity Is Critical to Transformation

The communications industry is undergoing a fundamental shift unlike anything it's seen before, especially for vendors that formerly set the pace with their R&D efforts but are now answering to new demands from new customers and facing new competitors.

According to Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) CMO Helena Norrman, diversity is one way companies can come out ahead on this transformation.

When everything is changing, a diversity of capabilities, viewpoints and backgrounds can help a company understand the market dynamics and its role in it, Norrman explains. Gender diversity is part of that equation, which is why she is fighting to maintain the 50/50 gender split on her team. (See BTE 2015: Innovation Thrives on Diversity.)

As chief marketing and communications officer and senior vice president marketing & communications, Norrman heads up Ericsson's global communications operation with the goal of driving scale, simplicity and speed through the marketing and communications operations. Supporting a diverse workforce with a level playing field for all is another goal of hers that ties in neatly with the first one.

Norrman checked in with Light Reading from Sweden to share her thoughts on why diversity matters, how parental leave creates a level playing field, how to recruit women, and more.

Figure 1: Helena Norrman, chief marketing and communications officer, and senior vice president marketing & communications, Ericsson Helena Norrman, chief marketing and communications officer, and senior vice president marketing & communications, Ericsson

Light Reading is launching Women in Comms as a not-for-profit, independent initiative providing information, networking, mentorship, access to jobs and support for women in the next-gen communications industry in 2016. Visit Women in Comms and get in touch to learn more!

Light Reading: Would you say that it's a good time to be a woman in comms, or are there still formidable challenges for women in our industry?

Helena Norrman: I think my basic feeling is that it's a good time to be a woman in the industry, and I also think it's an industry that needs more women, so it's not without challenges. The fundamental shift in the industry is we're going to a world that was very much driven by the company, and the company's own development and R&D, into a world that is demand- and requirement-driven from consumers, different industries and different ecosystem players. This fundamentally changes the logic of the industry in many ways and means you need more diverse capabilities in the company to understand what's happening and where to put resources. Diversity in general, including gender, is a very important component here.

LR: What does a "pro-woman" workplace look like and how can we achieve that in a meaningful way in large, often slow-moving companies?

HN: I think the first part is always to have a workplace that recognizes competence and recognizes people in respect of who they are, meaning you create a level playing field between men and women. I also think that just looking at Ericsson -- I've spent 16 or 17 years with the company -- for me, what has mattered a lot, and has mattered to the women I worked with, are the values of the company and the fact that it is a company driven by a belief in its people and a belief in the purpose of what we do. Those kind of values are important for many women.

I'd also add that it needs to be an environment where it's not seen as big problem if you have children. Workplaces where family or children are seen as problems are a big challenge for women. In Ericsson in Sweden, we made big changes about parental leave. We just equalled out between men and women in order to not make it a female thing, but a family thing. That has increased job satisfaction for women and for men. It allows you to feel like a more complete person. For a woman, to take some time off when you have a kid doesn't disqualify you because you're a woman, because the guys also do it.

You have different cultures and different ways of doing it in different countries, but it creates a level playing field so you don't get discriminated against. You are really odd if you don't take advantage of it. It has changed a lot. It used to be if you reviewed candidates for a job and looked at what's the likelihood of a female person versus male, you might say there is a higher risk the woman has kids and takes time off work for childbirth. Now you will look at both and say there's a high risk they will both have kids and take time off. It doesn't matter. They start to change fundamentals.

LR: How do you, as a leader, practice inclusive leadership? What does that mean to you?

HN: For me, it's very much about leadership. We talk a lot about leadership and the differences between being a leader and manager. A leader sets direction, gets the team to want to come with him or her, helps people and develops people, so you might be a leader and manager because you do certain administrative tasks that are part of the job, but it's not the only part of the job. Leadership really goes much deeper than being a line manager.

We also work a lot on the diversity aspect and being inclusive, which is about how to create diverse teams, because diverse teams will perform better. We're in a very difficult industry going through so much change -- we think it's a real risk to our future success if we don't have the best teams. Having the best teams covering the most diverse perspectives means diverse teams. To have that you need inclusive leadership to build teams with many different backgrounds, nationalities, genders, religions -- you name it! -- to make sure you can understand what's happening. Then you need functioning teams, so you need leaders who can create diversity and then make the diversity work together in an effective way.

Very practically, we all have targets on diversity in our team [including] hard targets on gender. We don't all have the same targets because it depends on when you start. My team is 50/50 on gender, which is a very good balance. I'm striving to keep it, but we also do mandatory training on unconscious bias and cultural awareness. It's not completely uncomplicated.

LR: In your opinion, how can the industry both hire more women and improve the pipeline so there are more qualified women to recruit?

HN: The biggest challenge is for the industry to make itself attractive to women and to other groups that haven't traditionally been in the industry. It's a big challenge, both for companies and the industry as a whole. Women don't search to become part of these companies. We have to do the traditional work at schools and universities to make sure young women understand the possibilities in the industry and what they can do to develop themselves to qualify, but it's also about the bigger picture, to make sure potential employees understand why they should want to be part of the industry, what it is we do, what we contribute, all the cool stuff... Sometimes, as an industry, we're not doing great on that.

I still meet people who think Ericsson is boring. It's the opposite of boring. Sometimes we only communicate with ourselves within the industry, so it's only those who are already here that know what we actually do, so we need to reach out and let them know who we really are.

LR: As a leader, what is the number one piece of personal advice you would give to help women achieve their goals in a male-dominated field?

HN: Make sure you work with the right people. Make sure you find the right boss and the right contacts for you to work with. Don't worry so much about the title or exact scope of the job; find the people. Very practically, if you are considering taking a job, think about who you would be working with. Seek out people you want to work with and actively try to become part of those groups. The people you should want to be with are the people you believe will give you a chance.

For a very personal example, when I took the head of communications job for Ericsson, it was a very big step. I would not done that if I wasn't convinced my boss -- despite the fact that I was the youngest and a woman and a newcomer -- would listen to me. I would never have taken the job if I didn't know he would listen to me. If he doesn't listen to me, I can't do my job. Of course, I have to listen to my boss, but it has to go both ways. That for me is super-important. Different people need other different people. Everyone needs to find the kind of people that will work for them and help them get where they want to go.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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