"Man or woman – a CEO is a CEO"

Why should there be a difference? Man or woman – a CEO is a CEO. Catarina Dahlin, CEO of the company Dagsmejan, also sees it that way. In an interview with NZZ, she tells us more. 

"You founded the company Dagsmejan together with your partner Andreas Lenzhofer. How did you experience the acceptance of you as a female CEO at the beginning? 

Since we are the founders of the company, that was never an issue. I think it can be more difficult when you join an existing organization and have to prove yourself there. However, from my experience, this is independent of gender. Furthermore, both myself and my partner have had successful "corporate" careers before we started Dagsmejan. I have also previously managed larger teams with up to 50 employees, so it is not a new task for me to take on leadership responsibility.
I've also often been asked if I feel that people don't take me seriously as a female manager. My first reaction to that is: Why shouldn't they? There is a difference between going into a situation fearing that you will be disadvantaged as a woman and going in with the expectation that you will be respected just like everyone else. The point is not to downplay the real challenges that many women face, but to encourage everyone not to internalize them and to move forward as much as possible with the expectation of respect and equality.

NZZ Catarina Dahlin

What has been the biggest challenges for you as a female entrepreneur? 

Although I've had challenges at times in my career as a woman, as an entrepreneur I can't say I've experienced any gender-specific challenges. I think my experience working in pretty "tough" work environments in different countries has also prepared me in the sense that I have a pretty thick skin. If someone has a problem with me being an executive and a woman, I always try to leave it at that. As their problem and not my problem.

Although Switzerland is considered one of the most modern countries, it lags behind other countries, such as your home country Sweden. How do you explain that? What does Sweden have that Switzerland doesn't? 

Sweden is far from perfect, but in terms of women's rights and work-life balance, Sweden has come much further than most other countries I know. Switzerland is a wonderful country that offers many opportunities for women entrepreneurs, but compared to Sweden, there are some bigger challenges for women. This is especially true in terms of family life. In Sweden, for example, you have the right to 480 days of paid parental leave, which can be spread out until the child is 12 years old. Parental leave is paid for by the state. Childcare is also subsidized so that parents can go back to work in an affordable way. I remember coming back to Sweden after working abroad for several years and being surprised at first when, at 4:30 p.m., a man or woman would get up in the middle of a meeting and simply say, "I have to pick up the kids from daycare." No one reacted negatively to that or questioned it. 

What advice do you give young ambitious women?

Women in business have a great future ahead of them, there is so much more awareness of issues like sexual harassment and discrimination in general, which creates a platform for change in the environment. However, this will be a gradual change that will require a lot of courage from both women and men. Additionally, it is important to remember that not everyone has to agree with every decision you make in life. It is important not to internalize the opinions of others too much. Find your own way and surround yourself with people, at work and in your personal life, who cheer you on when you succeed and build you up when you feel down.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, they are the best way to learn and grow. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And finally, be fair to yourself and to others." 

Read more about Dagsmejan here.