Eleri Afanasjev

Women leaders shared their success stories at the University of Tartu

At the conference "Empowering Women for Leadership in Technology and Industry", held at the University of Tartu Delta Centre on 17 October, executives from several prestigious companies spoke about their career paths and lessons learned. 

The purpose of the conference was to share inspiring stories and knowledge about how to reach outstanding achievements in industry and technology – fields where women have been in the minority until now. The focus was on topics such as the tasks of a leader, making choices to fulfil your potential, mindset for success and maintaining femininity in a male-dominated environment. Seven women leaders made a presentation at the conference. 

Sirli Männiksaar, who has worked for Ericsson Eesti AS since 2004, spoke about the importance of seizing every opportunity. With a master's degree in product development and having also studied quality management, she found that the key to success is diversity within the team. Männiksaar also stressed the importance of dreaming and said you must always believe in yourself. 

Triin Anette Kaasik, CEO and member of the board of OÜ Data Print, who has been a manager for almost 30 years, encouraged the audience to learn – different fields and a broad horizon allow making good choices. "If education is very narrow, there are fewer opportunities," said Kaasik. 

Kaire Kuldpere, Head of Environment and Sustainability of the energy group Utilitas and a leader in the topics related to the environment, society and good governance in general, stressed the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone. She believes we should always say yes to things, even if saying no would be more comfortable, and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to get the experience. 

Helina Põldemaa, who has a PhD in materials science, considered education the most important thing on the career path. According to Põldemaa, her academic work brought her positive attention and the experience that led her to her current position at Karl Storz Video Endoscopy Estonia. 

Marju Zirel from AS Tallinna Sadam addressed the unpleasant points between male and female managers, saying that women should not be afraid of managerial duties. Competition is tough, but you must start somewhere and be prepared to fight and work hard. "Take difficulties as lessons," advised Zirel. 

Liisa Luhaste, manager of Moe OÜ, has a strong background in chemistry, allowing her to run the best distillery in Estonia. She believes that even though science has no gender, big companies often do not see women as professionals. The solution, she believes, is to prove yourself. 

"You're not a female manager, you're a manager," said Emöke Sogenbits from Raumedic Estonia. A leader does not have to be an expert in everything but a skilful coordinator. You also need to believe in yourself, be brave and confident. Women tend to be hesitant and scared, which can keep them from high positions and success. Of course, the people around us are also important because without them, we are nothing. With support and cooperation, we can achieve a lot and get far. 

The conference ended with a panel discussion involving Triin Ploompuu (Mainor Ülemiste AS), Liisi Särglep (Seltec OÜ), Nadežda Dementjeva (Inission Tallinn OÜ) and Triin Laisk (University of Tartu). The discussion was moderated by Karl Kruusamäe. 

Together, they discussed why there are not enough women in technology. According to Liisi Särglep, the problem is twofold: the lack of women's self-confidence on the one hand and strong social pressure and stereotypes that technology is not a women's domain on the other. "We do not have a lot of women in technology because we do not kindle this interest from the beginning," she said. 

Triin Laisk agreed that action should be taken at a younger age. She also drew attention to the final stages of education: "Estonia has a remarkably high proportion of women with higher education. Even though we have more female PhDs, the balance shifts at the professors' level where we have more men. Somewhere along the way, we lose these women." 

According to Nadežda Dementjeva, Estonia is nevertheless different from other countries because we have a female president and prime minister. However, the topic does not get enough attention – as proven by the fact that the conference was held for the first time. "More should be done so we could spread our stories and encourage other women," Dementjeva said. 

According to Triin Ploompuu, being a woman allows you to make unexpected contacts and build relationships. "When the 'crazy Estonian ladies' are at an international event somewhere, they are easy to spot. I think it is a great way to represent Estonia," she said. 

The conference provided a real motivational boost for participants and speakers alike. It offered inspiring ideas and suggestions on how to be a successful female leader and what to do to build your career. The guiding idea was to always believe in yourself, imagine yourself as big and bold, harness your feminine charm, and make your voice count. The most important thing is to be confident and support other women, as Reet Kurg, Director of the Institute of Technology, said in her opening words. 

Recordings are available of all presentations. 

The conference is part of the Strada Programme of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Innovation Community (EIT Manufacturing), which supports women's career paths in high-tech and industry. 

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