By Sandhya Ramachandran
In the previous edition of Women in the workforce, we connected with Kaidi Ruusalepp and gleaned valuable insights on how the world perceives women startup founders. Earlier, she had also shared with us some valuable lessons from her own experience of being an entrepreneur.
From uncomfortable questions on family and children to not trusting them with top positions, women have it hard in the workplace. In the second part of the series, we focus on how we can bring change to the current scenario with Kaidi.
Sandhya: Would you say that there has been a change over the last five or 10 years in terms of how people perceive a woman in power?
Kaidi: Yes! We are not a minority anymore. There are many women on the stage, sitting in the top positions and making good decisions. So, we are present. But, women are still being asked questions unrelated to business. It has changed, but there is a long way to go.
Sandhya: So, what do you think or hope is going to further change in the next five to 10 years, especially in Estonia?
Kaidi: It’s a very tough question! Being in business as a leader is nothing but taking risks. It’s like trouble after trouble every day. So, you really have to get your hands muddy. Estonia might be the front-runner in technology space, but the breakup between men and women at work is one of the largest in the European Union. And I think it starts from school–the way we teach that boys take the risks, girls are more on the safe-side and what the roles of girls and boys in society are. So, this needs to change. Estonia has a long way to go but luckily our president is female and a very strong role model. There are more strong ladies entering the political scene. Women entrepreneurs are also getting more visible in the markets.
Globally, we need to celebrate the women in high positions in business. When a lady accepts a high position, and is first introduced to a crowd, then the media talks about her shoes instead of what she is saying. This is a global problem. We need to look beyond the face value or the “visible things” like she is a lady or of a different colour or different religion or what she is wearing. Because it is not about these things. It is only about what a person’s capabilities are. And those “visible things” don’t matter. The industry needs to learn this.
Sandhya: Do you think that the whole boom of startups in this world has actually helped women be more present in the workforce?
Kaidi: Yeah, I think it’s the boom of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship helps you go after your dreams by setting up your own company — doesn’t matter if it’s a small boutique or a big international financial company.
It’s also about the boom in technology. It helps women set up a businesses from home. You don’t need to go to the office every morning and come back later in the evening to go after your dreams but you can do it from home. Last week I was mentoring female entrepreneurs on pitching and it was wonderful to see a majority of women had kids and had set up their companies from home.
Sandhya: So, what else can we do to encourage more women in the workforce?
Kaidi: I think we need to share examples. Write the stories about role models and not just somebody who is a shining star or a CFO. We need to share stories about someone who was at home with a baby, helped a recruiting company as an assistant and really liked the flexibility in this job. When you write stories about relatable situations, it encourages women. When society takes this first step, then women are capable not just of walking but actually running ahead in the workforce.
Sandhya: You are part of the Estonian Startup Leaders Club or what is popularly known as “The Estonian Mafia.” It seems like a predominantly male group. So how has your experience been?
Kaidi: I was actually welcomed very warmly as a female startup entrepreneur! We are actually discussing with the present president of the group on what we can do to encourage more women to join this club and what can we do to get rid of those biases in Estonia that ladies wear nice clothes and run soft and social-oriented businesses. So, this work is still ahead of us.
Sandhya: What’s your opinion about wage gap and how do you think we can fix that?
Kaidi: The wage gap is largely because of what positions are filled by men and what are filled by women. So, women should start taking more risks.
But from the other end, it is about engaging women around the table when the business decisions are made. I think change starts by listening to what women have to say without bias.
Sandhya: That is so true! More often than not we have men explaining our own ideas back to us rather than listening.
But there is a common misconception that “women are women’s enemies.” How can we erase that and support other women to build a community of mentorship at work?
Kaidi: Yeah. That’s a tough question. I don’t know if women should mentor women. It’s about being equal around the table. So, women should be mentored by men, women, elderly, different professionals, etc. The top management should accept diversity for a new world to be created for women.
Sandhya: Do you think the government can actually make a difference here? I feel like you have a very unique perspective of looking at it from both sides, having worked for the Government and being an entrepreneur. How can various governments across the world define policies or laws to help women in the workforce?
Kaidi: First of all, governments need to lead by example. Look at the construction of the governments today. How many women are sitting in the cabinet? How many minorities? Is it not built mainly by the same-age men? Governments should begin to trust women in high positions. It is absolutely remarkable to see what the new Prime Minister of New Zealand is doing and what kind of messages she is sending out not just to the NZ society but to the global political scene. So, each person needs to think what can I do as a leader to engage more women in the workforce?
The second thing that Governments can do is create more opportunities for women to work remotely. We need to be more flexible on where women work. Do I need to come to the office? I don’t. I can work from home.
Thirdly, change should be initiated by the top leadership in the way they read the CVs, write the job descriptions, build their companies, ministries and a country’s culture.
I just keep saying it again and again — it’s all in the way the top leaders of businesses and the country treat this issue.