I wish I had been raised in Norway! Maria Moræus Hanssen tells me that Norway, her home country, and the other Scandinavian countries, are the best places for a young girl to grow up. They are among the some of the most equal opportunity societies in the world. Thanks to Pippi Longstocking, the heroine of the Swedish children’s novel written in 1944, girls are expected to grow up brave and independent. Moræus Hanssen feels that she didn’t have to break a lot of barriers when she started her career as a reservoir engineer in 1988.
And what a career she has! Moræus Hanssen has been called a “serial CEO,” reaching the pinnacle at three different companies. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors (BOD) of five energy organizations, including oil and gas, energy efficiency, waste upcycling and solar (from established corporations to start-ups).
Moræus Hanssen shared some key lessons of success that enabled her to rise to these executive levels:
University degree choice: She selected a university degree (petroleum engineering) that matched an industry where a lot of jobs were popping up in the 1980s.
Patience: She had her children early, took long maternity leaves and learned to be patient with her ambitions to enable both family and career.
Clarity about career needs: She knew what was important to her – recognition, appreciation and enjoyment of her work – and those values aided career decisions.
Field experience: She worked for a company that had a standard practice to provide operational experiences to employees with potential, including women. When she was offered a job offshore, Moræus Hanssen knew to grab that opportunity and run with it.
Business totality: She gained technical, financial and boots-on-the-ground skills in the oil and gas industry in order to fully understand the business.
Financial savvy: When Moræus Hanssen left a company, she chose to leave at times when severance packages were offered, allowing her financial security to take more risks with her career.
Back to my envy of Norway… In 2006, the country put a law in place that requires companies to have women in least 40 percent of board member positions. Moræus Hanssen says quotas don’t solve all the problems with gender equity, but they have been fruitful since the law forced companies to seek diverse candidate profiles, breaking up the men’s club. However, BOD quotas haven’t caused a trickle-down effect resulting in more women in executive positions.
In discussing why we don’t have more women in leadership, Moræus Hanssen believes lack of role models is a key factor, which is why women in these positions must reach out and inspire other women to consider leadership. She sees many positives of executive leadership that women could embrace. One example is that Moræus Hanssen meets many women who want purpose-driven jobs to help society such as physicians or in non-profit organizations. However, for-profit corporations create value for society. Societies need money and these companies create financial value and pay their taxes – a major advantage to society. Executive women need to convey how leading those companies, especially in responsible ways, offers huge societal rewards and value.
To attain more women in executive positions, which often leads to board appointments, we need female candidates and their advocates to ensure the candidate has visibility and wide recognition. When a BOD selects a CEO, the successful candidate must be widely known to several BOD members. Moræus Hanssen feels that we are at a place now where BOD members can ask to see at least one good candidate from each gender.
Beyond quotas, she believes most strongly in equal opportunity. Everyone, both our sons and our daughters, should have the freedom to choose their career journeys. She is also in favor of companies transparently presenting their demographic gender numbers with continuous targets.
She doesn’t think women bring special skills to a BOD. Rather, she holds that intelligence and talent are equally distributed among males and females. Companies that don’t take advantage of the whole population to acquire skills are losing out.
Research shows that three women on a BOD create a “critical mass” that is needed to make a difference. Moræus Hanssen believes you need more than one. She says, “Being a female in the oil and gas business should not be lonely.” So, whether it’s two or three or more, she asserts that we need to look for continuing progress, which leads back to her call for companies to transparently present continuous targets for gender numbers. She hopes to see organizations attain a gender balance where no woman has to be a pioneer in any workplace.
We close our conversation with two questions to help readers. The first: “What do you like about being a BOD member?” Inspiring women to seek these positions is a main goal for this column and Moræus Hanssen has some exciting reasons for women to serve on a BOD:
Learning – You can learn so much every day about complicated, interesting topics.
Rewarding – People ask you for your insight and advice on game-changing, strategic decisions for a company.
People – You get to sit in rooms with very talented people.
Stimulating and exciting – The energy industry is going in so many new directions as it undergoes a major transformation; there is no business as usual.
Our second question, “What should you ask yourself to determine if a future BOD position is a good fit for you?” brings out some pertinent tips from Moræus Hanssen. In addition to her advice on becoming visible and recognized, she advises women to look at a company and ask what you can contribute to make a difference. You may have special industry, political or geographic knowledge that would be useful. Another important question is, “Are these people I want to work with?” And finally, “Am I open and curious and do I like a challenge?” She points out that you will [find yourself in] challenging situations. And in order to learn, you must have curiosity and patience to meet those demands.
Moræus Hanssen closes our interview with a heartfelt statement:
“I am a big believer in gender equality. I don’t want to be one of those people who pulls the lever up behind me. I’ve been given all these opportunities and I hope I can contribute to ensure that others are given the same opportunities.”
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