Who runs the world? Girls with a plan take over Finnish boardrooms

To coincide with International Day of the Girl, Plan International has arranged for a group of teenage girls to become corporate leaders.

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File picture of the Finnish teenagers taking part in Girls Takeover 2019 / Credit: Plan International

A group of teenage girls from Finland are joining hundreds of others on Friday for International Day of the Girl, and becoming corporate leaders.

It’s part of Plan International’s ‘Girls Takeover’ project that sees participants step into top roles in business, politics and media to highlight the issues of representation for women, and show the adult-centric workplaces the value of listening to young people.

This year in Finland there’s also an emphasis to highlight the impact of the climate crisis on girl’s rights a wide range of jobs, and show boardrooms how their businesses can affect positive change.

The takeover participants will fill the shoes of the Minister for Development and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari (SDP); Environment & Climate Change Minister Krista Mikkonen (Green); Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP); MEP Eero Heinäluoma (SDP) and senior positions at Nordea Bank, Marimekko, and Ilta-Sanomat newspaper, among others.

“We have eleven takeovers altogether, and it’s been fairly easy for us to get these takeovers” says Elisa Hara from Plan International Finland.

“We took industries where there has been a gender imbalance, but more than that this time we took companies and institutions and representatives that are thinking about climate change” she explains.

Two of the girls taking part this year are Anna Mäkilä from Tampere and Henna Sertti from Helsinki.

File picture of Anna Mäkilä, taking part in Plan International’s Girls Takeover Day, 11th October 2019 / Credit: Plan International

Anna’s story 

As CEO of Finnish construction company SRV for the day, 16-year old Anna can’t hire and fire people but she can give the leadership team a perspective they might not have heard before.

Anna will be taking over for Saku Sipola who agreed to step aside. And she’s already finding there’s a hectic agenda.

“In the morning I have this breakfast where we will be different people, different experts and some people from the management group, and they are the big dudes of the company” Anna says.

“I have an hour to talk to them about girls and education and climate change, and how that links in with construction. And then I’ll have a meeting at a place called Wood City in Helsinki and there I’ll meet some City of Helsinki people” she explains.

And that’s all before lunch!

The afternoon gives Anna and her new SRV colleagues the opportunity to launch an initiative that can shape the future of the company: she’ll be announced as the first chair of SRV’s Youth Panel with a dozen members aged 15 to 19 who get to have an input on design projects.

“When they plan something now, it is ready in ten years, so it’s important that they will listen to young people, because we will be living in these apartments. On the Youth Panel I can really give my voice and tell how living in the future should be” Anna says.

File picture of Henna Sertti, taking part in Plan International’s Girls Takeover Day, 11th October 2019 / Credit: Plan International

Henna’s story

High school student Henna Sertti has met her takeover partner Jukka Leskelä from Finnish Energy only one time before stepping into his shoes.

The organisation represents more than 200 companies involved in the energy sector so Henna’s takeover gives the Helsinki teenager a unique opportunity to talk to senior managers about the issues that she’s passionate about.

“Both climate change and girl’s rights are very important to me, and I feel like I can have an impact on those things through this project” says Henna.

“The energy industry plays a major role in climate change, and in Finland the emissions from the energy industry is making one-third of Finland’s whole emissions, so it’s really important that they do make a lot of changes, and they try to really be ambitious” she explains.

Apart from meetings and briefings during the day, Henna will be part of unveiling a new climate change commitment to staff.

“I really feel that the energy industry wants to make changes but it’s also really difficult, The energy industry is doing a lot, but I feel like in Finland they could do a lot more in the future too” she adds.

Highlighting corporate gender balance

Although Henna and Anna are doing their takeovers with male CEOs, both in male dominated industries, not all the Plan International takeovers are with men. Senior female executives are involved as well.

However both girls would like to look at the sort of roles senior women undertake.

“The energy and construction industry are very manly, and there has been a lot of talk in Finland about what genders there are in different careers” says Henna.

Commonly, roles in corporate communications, climate change or corporate responsibility and sustainability are dominated by women. So there’s a different kind of gender imbalance at play there as well.

“What is interesting also, the CEOs are men and we can highlight the gender dimensions, but often when it comes to sustainability, in those jobs it’s usually women that are more representative in the field in certain jobs” explains Plan International’s Elisa Hara.

“So how do we get gender balance in sustainability as well, for men, and get men more involved in these themes? she asks.