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Tale ved Womenonmics

Karen Ellemanns key note tale ved Womenomics, konference om  inclusive leadership and digital economy, den 19. maj 2017

Abraham Lincoln once said “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.
We cannot predict exactly, what exponential growth, digitalization and disruption will mean for us in the future. But we can predict, that these trends will bring about significant changes, challenges and opportunities. To our businesses, our work force and our society as a whole.

If we want to succeed in the world of tomorrow, we must pave the way for success now. I believe that that the digital economy – and all the changes it brings – is a window of opportunity for growth and innovation. But the key to success is diversity. We know that diversity brings better solutions, more innovation and increased growth. If we don’t get in front on promoting diversity today, we will be left behind tomorrow.

I believe that we must disrupt the current structures in at least three areas to increase diversity and equal opportunities in society as in business:

First, we need to disrupt gendered mind-sets
Second, We need to disrupt gendered education
Third, we need to disrupt gendered family and work life.

Firstly, one of the most fundamental obstacles to diversity is unconscious or conscious gender norms and expectations. Or to put it differently: certain fixed perceptions of what women and men, girls and boys are and what they can do. Conscious and unconscious gender norms influence how we perceive and approach each other. And ultimately what opportunities we have in life.

We know that gendered expectations exist from a very early age. There are certain societal expectations to how girls and boys behave, respectively - Produced and reproduced from Kindergarten to University.

To put it in black and white: We expect girls to play with dolls not action men, boys to climb trees and not play dress-up, women to be into shopping and men into cars. But in a world of tomorrow, we cannot afford to be stuck in old thinking patterns and perceptions like these.
We need to step up our efforts to fight gendered norms and expectations, which limit the individual’s free choice and holds us back as a society.

A great example is day-care institutions in Fredensborg, where we have supported a project aimed at disrupting stereotypical gender expectations towards staff and children.T he day-care has developed an app called the norm twister, which among other things contains exercises to increase awareness about gender-based division of tasks among the staff. Female educators tend to – and are often expected to – make beads with the girls inside. And male educators tend to spend their day outside playing football with the boys. We need more initiatives like this to fight the (unconscious) gender norms and bias, which hurts the diversity of our society. 

Secondly, and continuing in the same line of thought, we need to step up our efforts to fight gendered education. If we are to succeed in an increasingly challenging global market, we need to mobilize all relevant resources and talents – regardless of gender.
But both boys and girls continue to make gender stereotypical choices of education. Especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the so-called STEM-subjects, there is a significant gender-bias, as very few girls pursue an education or career in STEM.

Today, women account for less than 1/3 of the admitted IT-students and less than 1/4 of technology-students. And in several Danish engineering studies, 100 percent of the admitted students in 2016 were men. At the same time, projections show, that we will need 19.000 IT-specialists by 2030. And already today, Danish companies have a hard time recruiting enough IT-profiles. Which becomes increasingly important in a global economy marked by digitalization.

The gender gaps in the educational system puts responsibility on all of us. An 2015 OECD survey shows that parents to a lesser degree expect their daughters to choose a technical or scientific education. We are all important change agents in disrupting traditional attitudes and gendered expectations of boys and girls. As parents, educators, teachers, brothers, sisters and mentors. It is not about creating fifty-fifty ratios. It is about creating equal opportunities for boys and girls. Men and women.

This is not just about boards – It is about brains. If we do not put all of them into play, we will lose in the digital economy.
For this very reason, the government last year launched a new committee for gender equality in day-care institutions and education. Our ambition is to get a set of recommendations on where to step up our efforts for equal opportunities in education. And later this year, we will launch a new pilot project aimed towards promoting IT and programming amongst girls. But this is not enough. We all have a responsibility for fighting gendered education and promoting talents.

Lastly, we must step up our efforts to fight gendered structures in work and family life. If we want to increase diversity and secure full use of our talent pool, we must make full use of the flexibility and opportunities provided by the Danish model.
However, traditional gendered attitudes and expectations are just as apparent in our current family structures and workplace as it is in the educational system. This influences how we recruit and whom we promote for executive management posts.
Just recently, we saw a female lawyer dragged through the digital mud because she chose to take only two weeks of maternity leave. Meanwhile 20% of all Danish fathers take only two weeks of paternity leave.
I would like to use this opportunity to disrupt this WOMEN-omics conference – and talk about MEN. Because if we are serious about promoting diversity, we need to get the men on board.

In Denmark, women on average take 296 days of parental leave, while men take only 29 days. This can set mothers off their predicted career paths and have negative implications for income, talent management and career. A Danish study shows that if fathers increase their share of the parental leave with just 10 percent, it will have significant positive implications for the mother’s career and her income will increase significantly.
In Denmark the mother AND the father both have an individual right to 32 weeks of parental leave, and the parents have a total of 32 weeks of state sponsored benefits to share.

With a more balanced sharing of the parental leave, women will retain a closer link to the labor market and fathers can foster a closer bond to their children.
I do not believe in earmarked paternal leave or “daddy quotas”. I believe in freedom of choice and ensuring high levels of flexibility for the families. But this demands, that we make an effort to disrupt the current structures, culture and stereotypes.
That is why I have taken the initiative to launch a campaign with the minister of industry, business and financial affairs and more than 20 of Denmark’s largest companies with the aim to increase the share of Danish fathers taking parental leave.
The companies have an important role to play in promoting a culture where parental leave is equally acceptable for mothers and fathers. My goal is to create debate and hopefully disrupt traditional attitudes towards family/work life structures. To the benefit of the fathers, the children, the families, the companies and society in general.

Diversity matters – in education, in the workplace and in the family.
As Lincoln said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. To create the future, and to grow and prosper in a disrupted and digitalized world, we need to challenge our minds, expand our talent pools and question the gendered structures and norms of our society. In education, in work and in family life.
Let’s work towards creating a more diverse future for all. Let’s think new, let’s challenge each other, let’s stay ahead of the game and let’s work towards a future, where boys and girls, men and women can participate, shape and dare to disrupt the world of tomorrow - together. Thank you.