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Interview With Camilla Wagner - Klara K (Sweden)

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

About Ms. Camilla Wagner:

Camilla Wagner is a business journalist and editor specialized in gender equality and leadership. She is also the CEO of Klara K, an agency specializing in leadership for inclusion. Camilla has been an advocate for women’s rights in Sweden for over 20 years and she is the author of the book “19 voices about women and power”. The Swedish government has assigned Camilla as a representative at several international conferences. Her proficiency in human rights and gender equality has led to several international assignments and she holds a seat on the executive board of many NGOs. In 2020 she was elected president of the Fredrika Bremer Förbundet and is also the editor in chief of Hertha, the oldest women’s rights magazine in the world still issued.

Gender Statistics:

Gender Development Index: 0.988

Gender Inequality Index: 0.023

Classification: The 2021 female HDI value for Sweden is 0.941 in contrast with 0.952 for males, resulting in a GDI value of 0.988, placing it into Group 1.


Complete Interview With Ms. Camilla Wagner

Lydia Carrasco-Bueno

In your opinion, how have stereotypes about women in Sweden influenced gender segregation against them?

Camilla Wagner

This is a very interesting question. Sweden is one of the best countries to live in as a woman, and I need to say that I am aware of that, but the structural issues are the same wherever you are, even if the situation is better. And the reason we are a better country than most when it comes to gender equality is a strong political will: there are many laws which protect gender equality. Stereotypes are part of our culture; those stereotypes may be reinforced by advertisements or during a dinner conversation, they may be factors in the decision we make every day. So, we need to be aware of that wherever we go, and we need to remember that when we consume, above all when that is culture. So, to mention one area where gender inequality is obvious in Sweden, that would be in the welfare system. It is one of the most, if not the most gender segregated labor market, above all in healthcare for elderly and for children, as schools and hospitals are workplaces for women in the same way that the private initiative prefers to hire men, what gives way to a more complicated view of gender equality, since, according to this, women's salaries are paid out of tax money, and men's salaries are paid out of profit made by private companies. This makes much more complicated to rise women’s salaries. In this case, you either have to make people pay more taxes, or you have to let some people go, and with that perhaps have a worse service. So, the Swedish welfare system is very much subsidized by women working in the system. Their low income and poor working environment pay for our welfare.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho What is your opinion about how the results of that election can change, or not, the situation of women in Sweden?

Camila Wagner Well, yes, we are in a very serious situation right now. Democracy is at risk. In Sweden we have been taking democracy and women's rights for granted, and perhaps not paying attention to it as we should have during the political campaign. There is a relatively new far-right political party. It does have its roots in Nazism. This is something that anybody can find in their political project that was published this summer. They were explicit confirming that their roots connected them with the Nazi ideology, and they are now the second largest political party in the Swedish Parliament, and they, together with the other conservative parties, are now the biggest block of parties, and they are negotiating to establish a new government. The Parliament and its committees, when the Government is weak, become very important in the process of making decisions in Sweden. So, being appointed to be president of these committees is very influential, and some of them have now gone to people from this party. One of these committees will be working on the new legislation on important social issues to pass, and its president, member of this radical party, has already claim that he will do his best to change legislation on discrimination. This is extremely serious. It will be difficult that he will achieve his goals, because his initiative will not receive the support of other parties, but only the fact that we are discussing this situation is what makes it extremely serious. I can't find words…, and to hear about the new Prime Minister in Italy, Georgia Meloni, saying proudly that Italy belongs now to the same league as Poland, Sweden, and Hungary…

Chloe Tran How does Sweden do with domestic violence? Especially during the pandemic?

Camilla Wagner Well, thank you, Chloe, that is a very important question. Violence against women is the most extreme expression of gender inequality. This is an area where Sweden as well as the rest of the world are failing over and over again. In Sweden, I think, that failure has very much to do with the fact that women's voices and testimonies are not being considered in the legal system in Sweden. Many women had contacted the authorities prior to being killed but did not receive the help they needed it. For example, women often get beaten to death when they ask for divorce. And divorce is a choice, a legal right. That's a very dangerous moment. During the pandemic we had almost thirty percent more deaths by men's violence against women. And I use the phrase, men's violence against women, and not domestic violence, and not what is often used in Sweden violence in close relationships, because I think it's very important that we use the phrase men's violence against women, because that refers to the origin of the problem. It's important that we realize that women are being killed because they are women, and the killers are men. Due to the pandemic people didn't go to work as much as they used to, so they stayed in. They drink more alcohol, which is a trigger to violence. So yes, this was an extremely dangerous time to be a woman in Sweden.

Natalie Von Geirke What changes have you seen since beginning your work for women's rights?

Camilla Wagner Wow! Thank you, Natalie, for giving me the opportunity to refer to the positive side of this. I have been working for almost a quarter of a century in this area. So, I have seen progress, and I have seen some backlashes, too. But now let's focus on the good things. I started working to promote gender equality as a journalist, in a business magazine. My job included to report on gender equality in the workplace, especially in private companies. It helps me to conclude that in the private sector we have seen important changes in Sweden. Basically, many more women reach now the executive levels. Unfortunately, we have not accomplished the goals we defined in many areas yet, there is much more to do, but even so it is happening much faster now compared to the situation ten or fifteen years ago. So, I believe we are close to the tipping point where things are happening almost by itself, even though we should never say that when it comes to gender equality, because we know that nothing is easy and there are always backlashes. At that point, I was an advocate for a quota system. Then that debate was on the table in the Northern European countries, and the best example was when Norway decided to implement a quota system. But I am proud to say that nowadays the large majority of the large companies in Sweden, which stands for like ninety percent of the values on the stock market, have the same ratio in their boards as they do in Norway, although Sweden did not implement a quota system law. I used to interview about five hundred women every year. I was interested in knowing about their careers. Many of them were CEOs working for big companies in Sweden making important decisions every day. Many of them had worked for the same companies their entire lives. They were never recruited for their CEO position at another company, as was very common, of course, for men. But now they are. You can hear of a female CEO who has been the CEO of several companies, and that had never happened before. I think that's progress. To be honest, I think private companies are our hope now. In this difficult political situation, they will continue with this pro-gender-equality strategies as they are more innovative when it comes to gender equality, diversity, and climate change. They are more visionaries, and they have a longer timeline for planning than our politicians have, so I'm very hopeful that business will lead progress in this area.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho What do you think about the implementation of quotas in the political system?

Camilla Wagner Well, I'm not sure if it's the perfect tool, but I absolutely think it could be a tool. Take Rwanda, for example, they decided to have fifty-fifty of men and women in their Parliament, and their development and growth has been really marvelous the last ten years as far as I know. We did not have a law regulating quotas in Sweden either, but when it comes to politicians and parties, I think it makes even more sense than in boards and companies, because the parties should represent their entire population, and in most countries there are as many men as women. Actually, we did have an informal quota in the political system in Sweden. Twenty years ago, the female members of the Social Democratic Party, which is still the largest party, claimed that if a quota system was not applicable to the electoral system, at least the parties should apply it internally. From then on, the parties try to achieve that goal when selecting their candidates. And I think that it has had a huge impact on our policy making in Sweden.

Catherine Begun What can we do in our everyday lives to support women's rights?

Camilla Wagner Good question, Catherine. Have you heard the expression you should pick your battles? I think when it comes to gender equality, you need to fight all the battles. I am not talking about doing it in a hostile or angry way, but, for example, you should always intervene when someone is making a stereotype statement, because we need to help each other to be aware. Sometimes we are not aware of it ourselves. I am not always aware of what I'm doing. My children are very strict with me, and correct me when I make stereotypical comments, and I'm very grateful, because I learn all the time. So, we need to pick all the battles. For instance, watching the news, whenever we see some reporting and hear someone saying I don't like that politician. She seems so cold, or something similar, try to take a different stand and say, “Why are you saying that? Do you think you can have that opinion because you expect her to, as a woman, be more pleasant?” or something like that, so, again, you can help people to be aware of their stereotyping. Speaking of awareness, I would also like to share with you an anecdote, sometimes you are not aware of what is happening in a room because you are playing by the same rules that have always been played. I remember when I was working as a journalist, every Monday we had this meeting where everyone should have three ideas for an article to discuss. Every time I was presenting my ideas, it was dead quiet in the room, so I presented the second and third ideas I had faster and faster, and I was really embarrassed, and I thought I was the worst journalist in the world. And then, one day, all the female journalists had a meeting. Everyone was feeling the same. We also agreed that when the men were presenting an idea, everyone else got into the conversation, saying Yes, that's a great idea! and you should talk to this one, and I know this guy, and so they built each other's stories and got help from each other. But, our stories died and we were given assignments from the desk to do some other stories. So, we decided to see what would happen if we, women, started to give feedback to each other in the room. So, when a friend of mine next to me said something, and it was dead quiet, and they were just waiting for the guy to start talking instead, I said, wait a minute. I just want to hear more about that idea. Could you explain a bit more to me what you were thinking? By doing that, I acknowledged her and her work. She was in the room, and everyone suddenly saw her and started to give feedback, and within just a few weeks, we could see a huge change, and I realized that I wasn't such a bad journalist after all. So, we could give each other feedback, and if you see someone in the room being ignored, just acknowledge her and give her some space.

Tyler Dunn What policies have the Swedish government implemented to improve women's rights in Sweden? Are you happy with the current government situation?

Camilla Wagner

Well, the current government situation is difficult, I'm not happy with the result of the elections, and they are still negotiating to create a coalition. Recently I watched a documentary about this woman in Sweden, she was not the first female in Parliament, I think there were five or six of them when she entered Parliament, and she had a baby. At that time, there were no daycare centers or similar, so she brought her baby to Parliament and breastfeed her baby in the back of the main room in the Parliament. All the women sat in one corner in the back while everyone else was organized according to the region where they have been elected. According to this documentary, she referred to that situation describing how every man there thought it was terrible to bring her baby and breastfeeding him there, while she was thinking, all these men have housewives, and their wives don't work. How will they ever think of laws that will be in favor of gender equality? That is not a problem for them. This is the perfect example to explain why it is so important to have good women from different parties in the parliament. She and other women from different parties have really been pioneers. One thing is that we have free education in Sweden, not only up to high school, but universities are also free for everyone. So, that is a very good thing. But it is at home where we can hear should my son go to university, or should I pay for my daughter? We also have free contraceptives and free abortions. It also costs very, very little to have babies. Maternal care is for free. I have three children, and I think I have in total paid eighty dollars for the labor of those three children. So, that is obviously a very good thing. You get good care when you have babies. Also, daycare is very cheap. It's like, one hundred dollars a month per child, and that's also about the amount that every parent gets. All families get for every child, regardless of your income every month, welfare for having a child. So, that has been very important. We have good daycare centers with educated teachers taking care of our children since they are months old, so I think that those reforms have been really important for gender equality.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho That is impressive. Well, it seems that Sweden is a very, very good place to live. But let me ask you this: I was talking yesterday with a very good friend, and we were discussing precisely if the most important tool to achieve gender equality is legislation. In fact, we were talking about the case of Spain, and you know, the legislation in Spain promoting gender equality is remarkable. But, I was telling my friend, You know, every time I go to Spain, I see that authorities are trying to implement this legislation, but I don't see a dramatic change in social behavior. I mean, people still behave in the same way regardless of that legislation. In your opinion, Ms. Wagner, what is more important, the legislation or the education in this case?

Camilla Wagner Oh, that is such a difficult question. I think that the legislation is important because it normalizes things. For example, in Sweden we have a very long parental leave. We can stay home for like eighteen months more or less, perhaps longer nowadays. And parents can share that: mothers can have half of it, and dads can have the other half. But still, in many cases it is mothers who take the whole period. This may have to do with culture, norms and structures. Even though we have the opportunity to be totally gender equal in our family, most people choose not to. That's where education comes in. In FBF, my organization, we have created a number of tutorials. We call it “Lifelong Economy.” We try to explain that when we move away from home, when we start working, when we get married, when we have children, and when we retire, we all make decisions with obviously important consequences. All these choices we make have their own consequences, and we all have to be aware of that. So, if the mother takes most of the parental leave and stay home longer, that will have an effect on her salary and her career, and it will in the end affect her economic freedom and her pension. So, you have to be aware of that when you discuss that with your partner to be able to make an educated decision.

Sahil Prakash Would you recommend other countries to adopt the policies Sweden has been implementing? Would you introduce changes in those policies?

Camilla Wagner Ah, yes, I would recommend many of them. Maternal care and free contraception and abortions. There are other initiatives that have been very important for our success when it comes to gender equality, and that is gender-based statistics. We can follow up how tax money is being used. So far, for example, more public money has been spent researching diseases that mostly affect men. So, if you have gender-biased statistics, you can adjust, and you can set targets to correct that, so I would recommend that. I would recommend parental leave, but not as long as one and a half years. That is too long. I have had three children, imagine, I was hardly working between the second and the third. You are not in the loop with the company, so even if you are protected by law, it will affect your career. So, either you should share it with your partner and be away for like eight months or something, but not as long as a year and a half.

Sam What needs to be done in order to get more women into leadership positions in Sweden?

Camilla Wagner I would never invest in a company if someone says I have a gut feeling about this guy, he's going to be great, and hire him based on that, because in your gut, there's where your unconscious bias lives. So, you should always have professional criteria in processes like this. You probably already know that companies with a more diverse management are more efficient than non-diverse companies, and the reason is not because people of color or women bring something magic to the table. The simple answer is talent, and you know brains are equally divided among us all. So, in a process like that, we should end up selecting the best regardless culture, ethnicity or gender. That is essential and it should be easy too.

Olivia Banks Why do you believe it's so important to have equal gender representation in the workforce? And how does your own experience influence the way in which you work or work with others?

Camilla Wagner I think it's a question of dynamics. Following the previous answer, now, if you are chosen into a group of ten, because you fit perfectly, you will work so well together, because you all think alike… But that is a waste of resources, because if you have ten people who think alike, and you really need only one... How likely would you speak up, if you think differently, if you are chosen because you are like the others? I think that it's the dynamic of a group that you need to be very careful with. If you have a group where everyone is chosen because they bring something unique to the table, you will be more willing to show what you can offer to the rest, and at the same time you will have a much more innovative and interesting discussion. I like to have diversity around me because I am a white middle-aged woman with privileges, and it's very, very easy to take the easy way out and choose what I’m comfortable with. So, I need people around me who will say, wait a minute. I have another candidate here that I think would do great. What do you think? Because we have different experiences and different views when it comes to diversity, and they make me also learn more from them. I have recently hired a woman. She is from Armenia to start with, but she fled to Russia, and then she fled from Russia to Sweden for obvious reasons. She was a part of the Pussy Riot collective, and you know her point of view has brought me out of my comfort zone. So, I am now finding myself driving her to Oslo (Norway), even though she is not allowed to leave the country. So, I became an activist for her. I learned so much. I think that's one of those experiences that made me see diversity as essential in our life.

Dr. Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho Is Swedish media helping to achieve gender equality?

Camilla Wagner It has been changing. And being a journalist myself, I have been part of that change, without giving myself too much credit. When I started gender equality was not even considered. Business magazines began to report on gender equality in business, and then it became part of our work. You know, reading nowadays about something that has happened is interesting, that is also the case of the political initiatives in this area that we have seen recently. It is also important the transformation of the public radio and television since they are not financed by commercials. They are now organized as foundations; they are funded with public money. So, you can imagine how terrified we were, seeing, during the political campaign before the last election, the rise in popularity of the far-right party. Leaders of this party had claimed for a long time that they would cut down on resources. Researchers have been analyzing the campaign previous to this election. It is interesting that one of their conclusions is that women did not appear much. It's like they reported to men, not to women. It was all about energy nuclear plants, and it's not like we don't care for energy, but we had just survived the pandemic, and we could see that our welfare system has been under a lot of pressure, and we wanted to hear something about that. Men's violence against women wasn’t discussed. No, it was only a discussion about gang-related violence out in the suburbs. What we are trying to do is educate media when it comes to headlines. You can see a headline saying, woman raped on a train. Why wouldn't that instead be framed, men raped on a train? It's not like she stumbled, and suddenly, you know, accidentally got raped. It's that you know someone was active here. Let's focus on that. So, using the language properly will be essential in this case. It is also interesting to see how women, and especially women with power, are portrayed. In this case, there is always a lot of description of what they are wearing, how their hair was, if they had a funny face, and stuff like that. One of the political leaders here in Sweden who is now retiring had her second baby during the last four years. Everyone knows that something happened because she was very active on Instagram about it: the baby was born very early. Then she had to go through surgery because there was something really wrong there. I don't know the details because that's part of her private life. When we saw her just after that terrible situation, we could see that her body had changed, she had a little belly that she didn't have before. That was enough for some journalists to speculate, they were wondering if she was pregnant again. So, she had to say publicly that she was not pregnant, that she would not be able to have another child, because of the injuries provoked at the end of her last pregnancy. Why should we force someone to do something as painful as that? Male politicians would never have to make public something similar to that…

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