Berit Svendsen, the highly rated executive who felt compelled to leave Telenor earlier this month, says she’s had “incredibly many nice messages and exciting offers” since her headline-grabbing resignation. Management experts think the company has suffered because of it.
“Seen from the outside, it seems like a lot of energy is used on internal positioning and quarreling at Telenor,” Trine Larsen, a partner in the executive search and consulting firm Hammer & Hanborg in Oslo, told Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “That makes Telenor less attractive as an employer.”
Larsen noted that there’s “always a battle for the best heads and the best leaders,” and Telenor can’t count on its major brand and position in the market to attract talent. Svendsen’s departure also raised questions once again about the challenges women face in reaching the highest levels of management. Male-dominated Telenor is no exception, even in egalitarian-minded Norway.
Svendsen’s name immediately arose when news broke this week that Kristin Skogen Lund was resigning as head of the national employers’ organization NHO to accept a new job as chief executive at the stocklisted Schibsted Media Group. Lund had also had a top management position at Telenor before leading NHO. Svendsen wrote in a mail to DN, however, that she wasn’t interested in taking over Lund’s job.
“NHO is a very important organization, but personally I want to keep working with technology and managment change, preferably in business,” Svendsen wrote to DN. She added that she’d been “overwhelmed” by all the proposals she’s received since leaving Telenor two weeks ago. She didn’t specify what types of offers she’s had or whether she has accepted any of them.
Telenor, which is 54 percent-owned by the Norwegian state, replaced Svendsen with two men who have each taken on her posts as head of Telenor in Norway and all of Scandiavia. That’s been met with no small amount of sneering among those objecting to what they call “the good-old-boys’ club” within top management in Norway. Even though women dominate political leadership of Norway at present, headed by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, they hold a very small share of the country’s business leaders.
The state itself has been criticized as well over the lack of top women executives at Telenor and other Norwegian companies in which the state holds controlling stakes. Svendsen’s departure over what was widely viewed as a power struggle between her and CEO Sigve Brekke was the latest in a string of women who also have left Telenor and moved on to higher positions at other firms. Larsen thinks the unrest at Telenor weakens its position among potential employees.
Pressure on Telenor
Monica Paulsen of labour federation Negotia thinks the pressure on Telenor will continue until its management becomes more diverse. “I speak on behalf of our members in Telenor,” Paulsen told DN. “There’s an expectation that we deliver in terms of promoting diversity. It’s important for us.”
Cecilie Blydt Heuch, director of human resources at Telenor, stressed that there haven’t been any more women leaders leaving than men. “I have checked that,” Heuch told DN. “There is no significant gender difference tied to leaders who quit.” She claimed Telenor remains an “attractive workplace” and that the company would do its best to make sure it continues to be, both in Norway and globally.
Heuch also said that Telenor’s goal is for women to make up at least 30 percent of senior management. “This week the portion was 27 percent,” she said.