Nordic Life Science had a chat with last year’s winner of the award Female Leader Engineer, Katarina Atteryd, about the award’s impact on her career and her thoughts on leadership, female networks and gender awareness in the engineering industry.
Tell me about your experience of winning Female Leader Engineer. How did it feel to be appointed winner?
“It was great, and very unexpected. I had never imagined that I would win the title. All the other candidates were so strong, so I was rather keeping my fingers crossed for them actually.”
What has this award meant to you and what do you think about the initiative?
“It has given me better self-confidence and faith in my abilities. It’s very important for me to always be true to myself, no matter what and by winning last year’s title, it also shows that it is a winning idea. Obviously it has also opened doors for me with job opportunities that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. What is special about this award is that it identifies potential rather than previous achievements, which makes it different from the regular recruitment process. It’s not about presenting the best résumé but rather what you have learnt from your experiences, and that is what is going to help you go forward in your career. Other criteria for good leadership are also highlighted with this award. What is often associated with a strong leadership is wanting to be at the center of attention, which is something that I personally don’t identify with. But these qualities don’t necessarily imply that you have the right qualifications to be a good leader. This award shows that there are other assets in a leader that can be highlighted, for example having an approach that is more focused on analyzing and pushing others forward.”
What is the situation like for female engineers, according to your experience?
“This is a tricky question to answer, according to my experience. Equality has always been a very important issue to me. But as a woman in the engineering industry it is so easy to be viewed as a victim when talking about gender equality. On the one hand you should be happy to stand out, which of course can be a benefit. But that sort of comment makes me really bitter. It feels very unreasonable to stand out just because of one’s gender, which has no connection whatsoever to my skills. I believe in diversity and equality in the business, and when we get closer to that you are able to stand out as an individual and not as a man or a woman. However, looking at the higher positions in the engineering sector they are still dominated by men, more or less, and the development towards a gender balance is going too slowly. There are many reasons for this but I believe it starts with basic values and views at a fundamental level. Even at elementary school young girls are being told that mathematics is too difficult. That’s why this award is so important. All candidates of the Female Leader Engineer are identified as leaders, and all of them are able to find good jobs afterwards.”
The award is given to a female engineer student who has stood out in her way of leading others. How would you define a good leader?
“For me it’s about not putting my own status first but primarily thinking about the group and the individuals, and that the group as a whole reaches its goal. A few years ago I was involved in a skiing accident and became very ill for a couple of years. This experience really changed my perspective and taught me what is important in life. For me that is health and having fun. Then I can do a good job and make sure that everyone around me can as well. Talking about weaknesses and personal setbacks shows strength as a leader for me because it makes you more human. Identifying and acknowledging the strength of others is equally important.”
What advice would you give to other women in the middle of an engineer program, thinking about the future?
“My first advice would be to not make any plans. That’s the same advice that I gave myself. When you’re starting off your career it’s very easy to think that you can’t apply for jobs due to certain life situations. But try not to think too much ahead and just go with the possibilities that you are offered. Another piece of advice is to get support from other women. Talk to each other, learn from each other’s mistakes and experiences. And don’t listen to people who say that something is impossible.”
Is it important to have role models?
“The network that I got connected to through Female Leader Engineer has been central to me in the entire process. I think that was the most inspiring part of it all, to be surrounded by these cool women. We all support and help each other, giving advice and give tips about job offers. Being part of a network and having other female role models is really essential. It makes you realize that it’s possible to reach a certain level, and that it’s worth all of the hard work.”