Let Them Shine – Closing the Gender Gap in Self-Promotion

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    Recent academic research confirms the existence of a substantial and robust gender gap in self-promotion. Women systematically provide less favourable assessments of their own past performance and potential future ability than equally performing men. It is not just about being bad at bragging, of course. This exaggerated modesty means that women are often selling themselves short of same-skill men.

    We could discuss at some length the reasons for this career-hampering phenomenon, deep diving into its origins and cultural background. We could also debate the efficiency of assorted long-term solutions, from policy interventions aimed at mitigating the consequences, to clever strategies that organisations might benefit from adopting.

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    For this International Women’s Day feature, however, NordSIP decided to keep it light. Opting for a short-term and one-off solution, we asked some men in the industry to help temporarily restore the balance by promoting worthy female colleagues and peers who might or might not be too shy to do it themselves.

    Our outreach met with some unexpected resistance. While acknowledging the relevance of the topic and welcoming our practical approach, many of the men we approached declined to contribute, stating lack of expertise, or simply lack of time. There were even those openly sceptical to the idea. “Personally, I have a problem with self-promoting people, whether men or women,” shared Stefan Lundbergh, Director at Cardano Insights. “Most of the great self-promoters are just hot air, which is bad from a climate perspective and even worse for an organisation.”

    That said, many of those we approached jumped at the opportunity to shine a light on worthy female colleagues and peers, enquiring eagerly whether they could pick more than one. “There are so many fantastic women that all deserve to be put in the spotlight,” exclaimed one of the guys. “How many examples do you want?” asked another.

    We are grateful to all our contributors: Kjetil Houg, CEO at Folketrygdfondet; Johan Elmquist, Head of Sales and Business Development at Navigera; Henrik Lundin, CIO at IMAS Foundation; Erik Eidolf, Partner and CEO at Nordkinn Asset Management; Stefan Lundbergh, Director at Cardano Insights; David Seekell, Head of Sustainable Investing and ESG at Atle; Lars Erik Mangset, Head of Sustainable Finance at Grieg Investor, and Robert Vicsai, Portfolio Manager at SEB Investment Management.

    While these guys certainly deserve an applause, however, today is all about celebrating the handful of fantastic women that they have chosen to promote. Here they come, in no particular order of priority, and accompanied by just a few words of praise. Let’s give them a big hand!

    A Woman of impact: Emine Iscel, Head of Climate and Environment, Storebrand Asset Management

    “You might have noticed how the financial industry in general, and Storebrand in particular, has increased its focus on nature risk in the past 4-5 years. Emine has played a big part of this with her ability to focus on core issue, bringing together stakeholders in a way that advances the agenda. There are few in the industry I have admired more than Emine lately. Her professionalism and ability to achieve impactful change is truly second to none.”

    The bold leader: Sofia Beckman, CEO, Atle Investment Services.

    “Many talk about the need for scientific perspectives in sustainable finance, but how many actually act on that need? I admire Sofia for walking the talk, despite the risks involved for a small company like Atle. I hope that others in the industry will look to her as a leader and be inspired by her to take risks on non-traditional applicants, especially those that stand to add new perspectives that advance the cause of sustainable finance.”

    The experienced investor: Annie Bersagel, Portfolio manager equities and ESG, Folketrygdfondet

    “She combines deep knowledge of all aspects of integrated ESG investing with a commercial mindset and ambitions to capitalise on her broad experience to make informed investment decisions and contribute to the team effort. Annie always delivers on a very high level and shares her knowledge with others. A fantastic colleague.”

    The strategic advisor: Silje Njå Bertelsen, Senior advisor and sustainability analyst, Grieg Investor

    “Leading edge in her field, facilitating the move from outspoken ambitions and targets to actual transformation. Despite her young age, Silje is advising asset owner boards on strategic investment decisions, helping them avoid greenwashing and festive speeches and instead focus on addressing concrete problems in their long-term asset management strategies.”

    The energetic entrepreneur: Cecilia Seddigh, CEO and Founding Partner, Third Act

    “Great entrepreneur, innovator, and board member. Making a difference in her start-ups. Early promotor of sustainable investing in asset management industry. Enormous energy and determination. Cecilia is a role model.”

    The data wizard: Victoria Lavold Jørgensen, Analyst, Grieg Investor

    “Victoria has been working in Grieg Investor for several years as a student, learning all the data and IT systems from within. Now, she can not only make client-relevant analysis by applying science-based approaches but is also able to streamline processes and ensure that analysis is made on the right portfolio data. She delivers a lot in a short time with excellent quality, which is no small feat. Thanks to her work, executive directors of key asset owners in Norway can take decisions based on relevant material.”

    The inexhaustible manager: Katarina Carlbring, COO and Head of Sustainability at Nordkinn

    “I would like to promote Katarina for being a role model not only through her deep knowledge and skillset, but for her inexhaustible grit in constantly pushing both herself and the team forward.”

    The positive force: Sofia Wärmlöf Helmrich, Investment Manager at Swedish fintech Lysa Fonder (NB! Sofia was nominated independently by two of the men on the panel)

    “She deserves stepping into the limelight because she is always positive and constructive, yet critical and analytical.”
    “Smart, action oriented, and trustworthy.”

    The master communicator: Alexandra Paltschik Rønneberg, Advisor sustainability, KLP

    “Alexandra can handle the information overload challenge facing everyone in the industry in a way that few others can match. She has a unique ability to convert the complexity in the sustainability field and associated analysis into plain spoken language and text, which is so important.

    A lady of principles: Heidi Finskas, Director Corporate Responsibility, KLP

    “Heidi is not only a super competent sustainability expert and leader, but also fundamentally aligned with true sustainability principles. She will never compromise, always seeks ways to align the role of a big asset owner with key, science-based principles, and finds ways to combine finance and sustainability in a unique way. Everything she says is thought through and based on the latest we know of sustainable business conduct today.”

    Two tough PMs: Caroline Forsberg and Mirella Zetoun, Portfolio Managers, SEB Investment Management

    “Both smart, action oriented, trustworthy colleagues who always take on the toughest issues yet are not afraid to ask the simplest questions as well when needed.”


    The versatile genius: Alison Mariko Rhatigan, Sustainability analyst, SEB

    “Sustainability analyst genius? Look no further. Alison takes on the most complex tasks within sustainable finance and excels at them in no time. You know how you give a task to a junior colleague and then need to spend ages making sure the deliverable is right? Not with Alison, she just gets it. And what she doesn’t get right away, she will figure out. She gets deep into analytical issues and writes high-level executive summaries in a way that everyone understands. She also writes in python, and she even does professional graphic designs. What more can you ask for?”

    What can we do to close the self-promotion gender gap?

    While highlighting some truly impressive female colleagues and peers, our contributors also shared their thoughts on gender and self-promotion and some ideas on what we all can do to close the gap. As it turns out, there is a whole range of measures that could and should be implemented already in organisations as well as in society at large.

    In search of the root cause

    The problem is deeply seeded in our early development, acknowledge many of our contributors. “To some extent the gender gap exists because of the ways we were socialised from the time we were children,” reflects Seekell. “The patriarchy created this situation, and therefore men should bear the brunt of the responsibility for making changes. A starting point is for men to constantly reflect on their own actions simply by getting in the habit of asking if there are any gender considerations to the task, project, or policy at hand.”

    “Many times, when you are part of a minority in the financial sector, whether gender-related or ethnic, there is a built-in reluctancy for self-promotion,” explains Vicsai. “Maybe because of fear of sticking out too much, given the homogeneity within the industry. If we can create a more diverse and encouraging environment, I think the reluctance would disappear.”

    On a more practical note, Elmquist points out the importance of addressing the issues early on. “We should support girls in school to make themselves heard, boost their self-confidence early,” shares. “We shouldn’t let them be limited by the fact that boys naturally take up more space and are louder. I have a daughter myself and I encourage her to give speeches at school. Teachers could do a lot if they paid more attention to this issue,” he adds.

    Tips for managers, and men in general

    “The key issue here is to change the mindset and the culture,” says Mangset. “The self-promotion gender gap must be recognised more widely and be put higher on managers’ agenda not only in the name of equality, but also because of the commercial value of ensuring diversity in an organisation.” He suggests a number of quick wins for any manager who wants to get started. The most intuitive among those is perhaps to avoid linking compensation directly to self-assessment, as men tend to be more aggressive in promoting their own results compared to women. He also mentions the topic of job ads. “Avoid giving the impression that an applicant needs to tick all the boxes,” advises Mangset. “On average, men would apply even if they only ticked a few boxes, while women think they need to tick all of them.”

    Lundin, too, puts the onus on managers. “Research says that when men and women are asked to evaluate others rather than themselves, there is no “gender gap” in their evaluations,” he points out. “So, perhaps managers should put more weight on peer evaluations. In salary reviews, for instance, corporate and individual managers should be aware of biases such as the self-promotion gender gap,” he suggests.

    “Men must hold each other accountable for fostering and inclusive culture that builds-up colleagues in an equitable way,” suggests Seekell. “We can start by eliminating old habits like “mansplaining,” dominating meetings, and hosting “manels” (all male panels). These actions are small and will not solve the problem alone, but they will accumulate quickly over time and across the industry and will lay the groundwork for next set of concrete steps needed to advance the cause of gender equity.”

    Raising awareness

    “Employers should make sure that they pose the right questions and create an equal playing field for all genders,” says Houg. “It is easy to focus on short-term spectacular achievements rather than robust longer-term results. Understanding risks and behavioural factors is under-communicated. By focusing on the process and the actual contribution, we can promote skills rather than luck.”

    According to Eidolf, it is important to acknowledge the issue and approach it with empathy, just as any other structural challenge. “In addressing that attitude towards self-promotion is subjective, the perceived hurdle to speak out undramatically disappears,” he shares. “This will in turn foster safety within the team’s culture, which I believe is a critical prerequisite to reap the full benefits of diversity.”

    Although we have chosen to focus on women this time, we do recognise that inequality in self-promotion is, ultimately, not only a gender issue. “Generally, I think that many people are not being acknowledged for the work that they do,” says Lundbergh. “We are all responsible for hero-worshiping of figureheads, which, sadly, means that only a few individuals get public acknowledgement.”

    According to him, the best way to deal with the problem is to reduce the overall number of ‘self-promoting’ mediocre people who typically engage in non-constructive political games. “The best leaders that I have worked for, both men and women, are looking for and nurturing talent no matter of gender, age or background. Perhaps the answer is to appoint leaders instead of self-promoting managers?” concludes Lundbergh.

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