We have the privilege of sharing an exclusive interview with Nataly Lamkén, Chief Communications Officer at Sigma Technology Group, as she opens up about her unique perspective as a working mom in Sweden. In this conversation with Anna Fehérváry-Ménes for ELLE Magazine in Hungary, Nataly shares her insightful thoughts and personal experiences, drawing comparisons between the work-life balance in different countries. Join Nataly’s observations and gain insights into the dynamic world of motherhood and career pursuits.
Translated article from ELLE Hungary.
For a long time, the Swedish mentality has been based on the principle of thinking in a broader context of social values rather than purely market goals. The set of guiding principles, known as “Swedish values,” is more than just a set of statements – equal opportunities, sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, work-life balance, and a meaningful and stimulating working environment are the reality of Swedish workers’ everyday lives. Of course, many people say it’s easy for them because they can rely on a completely different historical and economic basis than we Hungarians, for example. We Are Open, Hungary’s largest non-profit organization promoting diverse corporate culture, on the other hand, would like to draw attention to the fact that there is actually a lot of room for action in Hungary as well. Instead of visioning seemingly impossible, huge changes, it is worth thinking of the adoption of these values as a never-ending process of many small steps.
Sweden is a long-standing champion of gender equality, and the issue has been central to public thinking since the 1970s. Over the years, the Nordic country managed to reduce more than 80% of gender inequalities in all areas of life, thanks to some of the most progressive attitudes towards gender equality. One important aspect of this complex issue is improving women’s working conditions and ensuring that women have the same opportunities as men in terms of employment and career development. The fact that the Swedes do exceptionally well in this respect (Sweden has the highest proportion of working mothers in the EU) is due, among many other factors, to two important things: the parental leave policy provided by the state and the open and flexible attitude of employers.
Ukrainian-born Nataly Lamkén has been living in Sweden for eight years, where she currently works as Chief Communications Officer at Sigma Technology Group. “I am personally involved in this topic as I work having a two-year-old and I am expecting my second baby. I am a true ambassador for the Swedish system, which allows fathers to go on paternal leave after the birth of a child. Parents receive a total of 480 days of paid leave, 90 of which can only be used by the father and cannot be transferred to the mother. The use-it-or-lose-it principle encourages men to use this opportunity. Six months after giving birth, I went back to work 50% of the time, working three days one week and two the next. This was made possible by the fact that my husband and I shared parental leave, and my workplace was open to me working like this for almost a year until my child started kindergarten. I am very grateful that I was able to continue my career relatively soon after giving birth in such a relaxed mode and that I didn’t have to skip as much work time as my friends who live elsewhere. As a parent with a small kid, finding the balance between family and work is like a puzzle, but here in Sweden, I see it not so much as a woman’s challenge, but as a family challenge, with my husband equally involved,” says Nataly. In Sweden, it is very common for women to return to work part-time after childbirth and then gradually return to full employment, but there are also many examples of fathers staying at home in “full-time parenting mode” for six months.
In addition to the above, a range of practical solutions and internal policies are available in Swedish workplaces that can make a female employee feel safe and free from any disadvantage or inconvenience to occur only because she is a woman. The range of tools that ensure optimal working conditions is very broad, from something as banal as having an adequate number of toilets for women to a hotline system for reporting sexual harassment or any kind of misconduct. “At Sigma, we have free hygiene products in the women’s toilets, sofas in the office relaxation rooms for those who need to recharge during the day. According to Swedish collective agreements, employees may take up sick leave without a medical certificate for up to one week, which can be used for cases of severe menstrual pain, migraine, or other symptoms,” – says Nataly. There is a lot of good practice in Swedish companies that could be transferred to Hungarian workplaces. We Are Open aims to raise awareness of this among Hungarian business leaders: in addition to bringing them on a platform with Swedish-led companies who share their experiences and provide practical guidance on how to put gender equality into practice, the organization also offers concrete solutions to Hungarian companies that approach them.
On the surface, the Swedes may appear to have perfected gender equality, but in reality, there are still areas where further progress is needed. Although the pay gap between men and women in Sweden is gradually narrowing (9.9% in 2022 compared to over 17% in Hungary), full gender pay equality is still a long way off. The pay gap is also partly due to the fact that women continue to face barriers to some high-paying professions and high positions. “There are many areas that men, typically the business sector, still dominate. According to the latest statistics, for example, only 10% of companies listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange have a female chairman. So what’s on the public agenda now is how to increase the presence of women in company boards and how to encourage women to start their own businesses,” – says Nataly. There are also a limited number of women in today’s inescapable IT and tech sector – I can see this first-hand as I work for a company with this profile. One reason for that is few girls choose to study engineering. So there is also work to be done in the field of education, and tech companies are playing their part through university partnerships, workshops, and mentoring programs. Our company also works with, among others, the Hungarian Skool Foundation, which introduces young girls to the traditionally boyish world of technology.”