Hilde Kjelsberg giving the keynote address at the "Women in Finance" event at NIB. Photo: Marjo Koivumäki

Hilde Kjelsberg giving the keynote address at the "Women in Finance" event at NIB. Photo: Marjo Koivumäki

4 Dec 2019

Women in Finance - seize the opportunities!

For most of my career, I was the only female in executive teams.

I got my first senior management role in the mid-1990s in a commercial bank in Norway. Following the severe financial crisis in the country, there were in fact quite many openings for skilled women at the time. I was fortunate to have a great boss who believed in me and pushed me to further develop my leadership skills by attending a comprehensive management programme that ran over a full year. I was the very first participant to bring a baby, my then eight-week-old son, to the programme.

Early this October, I was invited to speak about my experiences at an event called “Women in Finance”, co-hosted by my employer the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB) and Nordea Bank.

When I was preparing my speech, it struck me that in more than 20 years, the changes in executive management teams had not been as great and definitely not as positive as I had expected when I started my career. That is why I suggested that my speech be renamed “A Woman in Finance”.

Fortunately, there has been some progress over the last few years, particularly when it comes to board level positions. At NIB, we have had a gender balance of almost 50-50 on our Board in recent years, which is encouraging.

The positive development was also tangible at the “Women in Finance” event, where I shared my experiences. More than 70 female finance professionals gathered at NIB. The programme contained several agenda points with highly professional senior female speakers.

Women in Finance panel. Image: Marjo KouvimäkiFrom left: Aila Aho, Kristiina Vares-Wariovaara, Esther Finnbogadottir and Angela Brusas on the "Women in Finance" panel. Image: Marjo Koivumäki.

My colleague Angela Brusas, Director, Funding & Investor Relations at NIB, moderated the panel on sustainable finance. The participants were Esther Finnbogadottir, NIB's Deputy Chairman of the Board and Head of Division at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs in Iceland, Aila Aho, Executive Advisor at Nordea Bank and Kristiina Vares-Wartiovaara, Head of ESG at OP Asset Management.

Esther discussed NIB’s way of assessing impact in connection with financing, and highlighted that NIB has been doing this for more than 15 years. Aila started with the “Greta effect” and talked about how this brave young woman has been able to reach the hearts of all of us, thus raising the awareness of climate change to an entirely new level.

Kristiina addressed the increasing demands on the asset management industry, as more and more investors expect ESG factors to be analysed, and that these considerations need to go deeper than just looking at ESG ratings.

The panellist agreed that the “jungle” of standards, the many different providers, the very different methodologies used in ESG ratings, and the complexity of the issues at hand make the work very challenging in practice.

The EU initiative to develop an EU taxonomy was much welcomed as a way to support the development going forward. The panel also commented that nowadays sustainability professionals are definitely more heard within their organisations and that the learning curve is steep.

Next on the agenda was a very inspirational and exciting presentation by Katri Saarikivi, Cognitive Neuroscientist and Researcher at Helsinki University, whose presentation addressed the question: Are we using our brain in a sustainable way? With all the multitasking and impulses we nowadays are faced with, this is surely not a given and the balancing need for sleep becomes more important than ever.

The evening ended with networking and a get-together. We started with “constructive networking”, where participants moved between different smaller groups, but very soon there was no need for any organised networking. A group of active and engaged women in finance of different ages, different professions and with different experiences from several countries had plenty to discuss, and the energy in the room was amazing.

It is evident that aspiring young women want more female role models as well as advice on the opportunities and challenges ahead.

So, what advice can I give to women in finance today? Beyond continuously building on your professional skills and working hard, “picking” a good boss or finding a mentor would be my recommendation. And: always seize the opportunities that may come your way!

This column is based on the presentation the author gave at the "Women in Finance" event, co-hosted by NIB and Nordea in October 2019.

Hilde Kjelsberg

Hilde Kjelsberg

Vice President, Head of Credit & Analysis

Hilde Kjelsberg joined NIB as member of the Bank's Executive Committee in 2006. Prior to joining NIB, she was Head of Credit at Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) in Norway and held a number of other management positions.