Susanna Bairoh.

Blog post: Nine Engineers and One Woman

Blog post

My research focuses on gender equality, equity, and inclusivity in the field of technology. The persistent gender inequality in advancing to leadership positions continues to perplex me. Numerous studies illustrate how merits stick to men.

“We don’t consider gender,” “we hire based solely on competencies,” “merit is what matters.” These were the assurances given to me by executives in technology companies. It’s what we want to believe, and it’s wonderful if it genuinely happens.

Perhaps there’s no contradiction when one executive asserts that gender doesn’t matter in their company’s leadership recruitment, while describing their executive team to comprise of “nine engineers and one woman”.

The facts reveal that a woman’s path to top corporate leadership in Finland remains challenging. For instance, a review conducted by the Finland Chamber of Commerce (in Finnish) at the end of 2023 indicated that women held the position of CEO in only 12 publicly traded companies (9%). Among these, one was a technology company.

In executive teams, there are more women: according to the same study, 26% of executive team members in publicly listed companies were women in 2023. However, among business unit leaders, only 13% were women. Since women in executive teams often handle support functions, their career progression rarely leads to becoming a CEO or a board member.

The facts reveal that a woman’s path to top corporate leadership in Finland remains challenging.

Yet, somehow, women are successfully found when filling board positions. In 2023, the proportion of women among all board members of publicly traded companies reached a new record: one-third (33%) of board members were women (in Finnish). In the largest companies, this figure was already 37%, and even in smaller ones, it stood at 28%. However, as board chairs, women held the position in only 14 companies (= 11%).

Why does the percentage of women in corporate leadership remain stagnant? One explanation lies in leaders’ strong belief that meritocracy prevails within their own companies. Because they perceive competence and qualifications as the sole criteria, women somehow don’t appear sufficiently competent. How, remains unclear.

Numerous studies indicate that it is more challenging for women than men to demonstrate their competence, even when objective metrics are considered. As a woman, proving your qualifications becomes a complex task when merit seems to only stick to men.

The author works as Research Manager at TEK, obtaining a D. Sc. (Econ.) degree in spring 2023. The dissertation focused on the gender disparities in STEM fields.