What advice can you offer to women starting their careers?

We asked two of our female Partners, both very successful management consultants...

Susanne’s answer

I have two pieces of advice for the young women starting their careers.

Firstly, make a career plan. Having been a headhunter and mentor for over 20 years, my experience has showed that having written down your expectations and dreams for your work life is of great benefit. A study from Harvard University also confirms this observation. The study was conducted in their MBA class where 3% had a written career plan, 13% had a mental career plan and 84% had no career plan. 10 years after finishing their MBA the 13% had performed twice as well as the 84% and the 3% were making 10 times as much the remaining 97% annually.

Secondly, ensure that you have a good balance between work, studies and your private life. I see many young women who have focused solely on their studies for many years, and then find it very hard to find a job afterwards. Having solely focused on their studies and good grades for so long has unfortunately made them narrowminded, and workplaces today are looking more and more for educated and interesting people with a certain degree of charisma. If you have spent all your time behind your desk, it does not give you that charisma. Prioritizing your hobbies, drinking wine with your friends and travelling, while also studying, makes you a more interesting person for your future workplace – and it also gives you a great start to creating your own network.

Lorri’s answer

Being a woman today means there is a much wider range of career options. We have young women fighting in our army, in construction - we are politicians and CEOs of global companies – there is no limit. Yet many women are still reluctant to use their voice. Remember: you are hired for a job because of your skills and talents so don’t let these get minimized by not speaking up. Your ideas, contributions and achievements are yours to realize AND to highlight, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Don’t force conversations or to become arrogant, but take those natural opportunities to talk about the work you’re doing and what you’ve achieved.

I think one of the best pieces of career advice for women is to develop a strong personal brand which together with a strong reputation can put you on the radar for exciting career opportunities.

Finally, if you're asked to do something that excites you, but that you aren't sure you're completely ready for, always say yes – you'll figure out the "how" later. The more confident and competent you appear, the more you'll be able to build confidence in your abilities in others.

Always have the confidence to try new things, or even take a lateral move to get a new perspective. Believe in yourself.

Norwegian requirement for 40% female directors has yielded better boards

Norway currently tops the European statistics for gender-balanced corporate governance, with France and the UK in second and third places. (Source: Gender Diversity Index, europeanwomenonboards.eu).

Many factors explain why Norway has made great strides with equal opportunities, and gender quotas for company boards is one. Despite the progress, however, the Norwegian labour market remains very divided along gender lines. Four out of every five CEOs is a man – and nine out of 10 nurses are women.

Gender quotas on public-sector boards were introduced to Norway in 2004, and extended to private companies planning for a stock market listing (public limited companies) two years later. The requirement was that women should hold a minimum of 40 per cent of board seats, with companies which failed to meet this proportion threatened with being wound up.

Owner perspective

Norway has many small family-owned businesses. A majority of these belong to men. As a major owner, the Norwegian state also makes a clear mark on the domestic scene. Directors are almost always non-executive and largely independent of the company’s management.

Trust between owners and directors is important. Historically, owners have chosen directors from within their own network, since it is easier to trust people you already know. These networks are homogenous. Boards drawn from them generally work effectively, but risk missing out on important perspectives.

The 40% women requirement has increased the awareness of the expertise desired and the contributions directors make. This is considered a very positive consequence of the quota regulations.


The need for renewable energy, for example, has shifted huge investments from coal and oil to solar and wind power. Digitalisation has created radical changes in companies' development and the competitive position and will continue to affect all sectors.

Major changes call for non-traditional thinking, and curiosity about how other sectors overcome their challenges is particularly important along with a sense of urgency and solid understanding of financial risk. Having directors of both genders as well as different ages and backgrounds – nationally and internationally and from various sectors – will be necessary in order to widen perspectives and make the right strategic choices.

Female boardroom candidates

Holding a directorship is not a right, but an opportunity to contribute required expertise. During the first few years with gender quotas, we saw some poor solutions – female directors with a combination of high self-confidence and low relevant expertise, and enterprises which invited women on in order to fill their “quota” without wanting them to make an active contribution. Such things are rarely seen today.

Generally speaking, bottom-line responsibility and thereby executive experience are necessary to contribute effectively on a board. Norway has far more men than women in leadership roles, which means that the pool of female candidates with relevant experience remains smaller than for men.

But big variations exist between sectors. So, when putting together capable boards which also meet the need for gender balance, an overall view must be taken of expertise and efforts are needed to identify where scope exists for a good selection base.

“Younger” sectors, such as technology, media and telecom, have a more balanced gender distribution and thereby more women with solid management experience who amply provide the expertise required of a director. This contrasts with traditional industry, for example, where the pool of women with similar management expertise remains smaller.


Good boardroom contributions emerge from relevant expertise, strategic insight, understanding of roles, commitment and a personality able to exert influence and collaborate.

Some people argue that being “quota'd in” is unequivocally negative, and that quotas weaken the authority of women on the boards. We believe gender quotas ensure that highly competent women are invited to serve and give able females opportunities to contribute. If the starting point has been that male owners chose directors from networks of friends and acquaintances, the quota system has been both a necessary and an effective tool for ensuring diversity. We argue that it also ensures the best possible value creation.

In our experience, the quota rules have contributed to owners adopting a more analytic approach in assessing the board’s overall expertise and contribution. The requirement for 40 per cent women has thereby definitively made owners aware of able female directors. Our hypothesis is that the boards also end up with more capable male members.

Hild Kinder
Benedikte Stiff
Partners, Norway

Number of women on FTSE boards up by 50 per cent in just five years

Today, the fifth and final report from the Hampton-Alexander Review was published.

The Hampton-Alexander Review was an independent, voluntary and business-led initiative supported by UK Government to increase the representation of women in senior leadership positions and on boards of FTSE 350 Companies, from 2016-2020.

The scope of the Review covered over 23,000 leadership roles in Britain’s largest listed companies, covering the board and two leadership layers below the board, making the UK’s voluntary approach to improving women’s representation at the top table, arguably the biggest and most ambitious of any country.

Number of women on FTSE 350 boards has risen from 682 to 1026 in five years

FTSE 100, 250 and 350 all reached target of women making up 33% of boards by the end of 2020. Culture change at the top is paving the way for greater gender parity across business with women’s representation in wider senior leadership also rising. Hampton-Alexander Review CEO, Denise Wilson said:

“The lack of women in the boardroom is where it all started a decade ago, and it’s the area where we have seen the greatest progress. But now, we need to achieve the same - if not more - gains for women in leadership.”

Executive Search - Partners in Change

The final report states that there is no doubt that the executive search community has a critical part to play in the selection process and working together with clients, has been a major driver of progress.

Friisberg has a long established success in helping appoint women candidates to a wide range of business and public boards. This is important given the significant reach of many of these boards generates a critical ripple effect across boards in a wide range of sectors and positions of influence.

We work with our clients to ensure talent is evaluated on a level playing field.

We ensure that briefs are drawn as widely as possible, which prevents candidates with the appropriate skills and attributes being unintentionally ‘written out’ at an early stage.

We offer support and guidance to staff, and clients alike, on how to evaluate different work and life experiences with the more traditional career paths, and on the power of bias in the process, and final appointment stage.

As we look to build back better from the pandemic, it’s important businesses keep challenging themselves to use all the talents of our workforce and open up the top ranks for more, highly-accomplished women.


What do women need to make it to the top?

Many résumés for women in top positions read like a handbook to business success. They didn't need a quota, the career steps followed one another seemingly logically, opportunities always presented themselves and women took advantage of them. But there are few - at least in Germany.

The legislature now wants to change that.

The plans for a binding quota of women on executive boards affect almost a third of the 100 largest listed companies in Germany because 29 of them have more than three board members, but no position for a woman, according to an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group.

As a diversity officer, I speak to highly qualified women in management positions every week. Many of them have come along a rocky road, yet not all are in favour of a quota; and have differing opinions on the advancement of women.

But when it comes to the question of what women need above all to make it to the top, they all agree:


Courage to seize opportunities and also to fill uncomfortable roles - even if you do not yet have all the skills.

What do you think?

Do women lack courage?

I look forward to a lively exchange with you!

Message Meltem

Meltem Ay
Principal, Germany

Forging inclusive work cultures where women's careers thrive and achievements are celebrated

"We need more women in leadership"

The world needs more women leaders – whether that is leading companies or running countries. Why? Because gender equal leadership results in a more inclusive and effective society.

Global talent shortages are at a record high (almost double that of a decade ago) so surely it is critical to harness all potential talent. Did you know that although women enter the workforce in relatively equal numbers as men, but the rise to the top can be slower and more challenging for them?

At Friisberg we constantly challenge the status quo and actively seek to create truly inclusive and supportive environments where women can excel and constantly achieve their full potential.

There are many ways companies themselves can aim to attract and retain more women leaders:

Break the male line of succession

A lack of women leaders at the top cannot always be attributed to a lack of female talent. Many women feel blocked from senior ranks due to all-male lines of succession. Breaking this line of succession requires reversing stereotypes. Companies must clearly articulate and make transparent the specific skills and experiences needed for movement into leadership levels and should identify suitable mechanisms for helping women build exposure to the scenarios they need in order to progress.

Offer workplace benefits beyond pay

For companies to attract women into leadership roles, they need to offer more than just good pay, such as employee training and development opportunities, good work/life balance, and flexibility. Many women still remain the primary caregivers outside of working hours, so it is important that companies understand and respect the wide demands often placed on working women.

Look for employees who are willing to adapt

The world of work is changing thanks to the increasing influence of digital technology and this can mean breadth of skills and not always depth. Yet, many companies still require candidates to have many solid years of experience behind them, something that greatly favours men who have not had career breaks. Some of the biggest barrier to women's progress is an entrenched male culture that is based on merits created by men, shaped by presenteeism and defined largely by male standards.

At Friisberg, we always remove bias and barriers from interviews and ensure our assessment criteria are designed with all candidates in mind.

Encourage leaders to take responsibility for their actions

All leaders have the influence to instigate change, so it is important that the words, actions and decisions of leaders are fair and inclusive in promoting and encouraging women.

Leaders should ensure there are adequate policies and strategies in place to create inclusive workplace cultures where people's differences are valued. Such workplaces ensure everyone - regardless of background or identity - is respected, their voices heard and their actions valued.

Lorri Lowe
Partner UK

Atila Yenisen, CEO of Metro Bulgaria.

Reducing gender inequalities is one of the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform our world and the topic about the role of women in business is becoming increasingly relevant today.

Atila is highly engaged regarding the role of women in business and is an active member in LEAD Network as Co-Chair in the Sales & Buying chapter where he is actively involved in projects aimed at increasing the influence of women in trade.

Why do you think a stronger female presence in management positions is so important?

Our industry is very dynamic and consumer behaviours are continuously changing and evolving. Real success comes from not only following the customers, but also from shaping their choices. It is therefore paramount to have the diversity of the market reflected into our decision-making processes  - only then we can move where the customers move and even move the customers towards our solutions.

As the CEO of Metro Bulgaria what actions towards this have you taken?

We have set targets at a local level within Bulgaria. We have a minimum of 50% women in our development programs and at least 50% of candidates interviewed for Level 3 and up positions are women. This helps us to manage our pipeline for all the levels in our organization including for leadership positions.

According to a global survey on the topic, having children was stated as the biggest challenge for female colleagues. We know that over half of mothers change jobs, over 30% contemplate leaving work entirely and nearly 20 % of women leave employment in the following 5 years after their child’s birth. Therefore, we decided to focus our maternity policy to help women not to disconnect during their maternity leave which then helps them to restart effectively when they choose to rejoin.

In METRO Bulgaria we also initiated the Women in trade chapter within the company. The aim was to promote awareness as well as engaging with teams giving them the opportunity to drive decisions. We have already 26 employees involved in the project. We are also in the process of adapting our Global Diversity and Inclusion training.

What is the role of men in women's careers?

I believe the role of leaders, regardless of their gender, is critical. Leaders set the context, they set the tone and they set the norms of culture. However, considering the male dominance in leadership positions, it is vitally important to actively engage men with diversity and inclusion.

The first step is increasing their awareness that diversity undoubtedly improves results. However, I would suggest we avoid only focusing on women and men, but more on real diversity including sexual orientation, religious and political views, as well as all cultures.

According to you what qualities does a woman need to be a leader in trade nowadays?

I can count numerous qualities of a good leader. However, let me highlight the three most important in my opinion:

1.       Self-belief: everything starts with confidence.

2.       Assertiveness: a good leader should not easily give up.

3.       Persistence: very few initiatives elicit good results at the first attempt and only the ones who try again and again make a difference.

Metro is a partner of the independent business in Bulgaria. What proportion of your clients are companies run by women?

We are delighted to observe that nearly 37% of our business customers are owned by women.

What particular challenges are faced in Bulgaria by female owners of small and medium business?

The biggest challenge for women business owners is to multitask. I have hard time believing that all women actually delegate all their historical responsibilities to men. So, managing everything can be quite a challenging task.  When it comes to managing their businesses, just like their male counterparts, there are many different areas about which they need more knowledge and support such as the legal requirements, fiscal rules, quality standards and measures etc.

Can you tell us more about your role in LEAD Network?

I have been part of LEAD for the last 5 years. My colleague Tanya was already part of it and invited me to join. I have been actively participating as a mentor for female leaders from different industries, companies and geographies. Being a mentor in this network has enabled me to appreciate different perspectives and realities which have subsequently shaped my opinions. This year I have also agreed to be the Co-Chair of a new Chapter which is called the “Sales & Buying Chapter”. Its mission is to equip emerging female leaders in Retail and FMCG with expertise, confidence and international exposure. It is a very exciting role in a very interesting chapter.

Finally, what is your personal and professional advice to women in trade?

I would like to invite women from the Procurement and Category management fields to join our sector. These roles are both challenging and strategic, requiring analytical skills. In the current circumstances the growth opportunities in organizations are bigger.

My most important advice to women in trade is to believe in yourself, follow your dreams and things will work out in the best possible way!

LEAD Network

Photograph: dnevik.bg

Interview: Nevena Nikolova, Partner, Friisberg & Partners Bulgaria

"Women in the Workplace 2020" is a must-read report from McKinsey & Company.

In summary:

[ Go to full source report on McKinsey.com ]


Yellow Eve, a newly-launched magazine for equality-driven career women, featured an article by Friisberg Partner, Lorri Lowe.


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