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Nordic Talks highlight women's efforts in entrepreneurship

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Poster for 11th Nordic Talks Korea, themed
Poster for 11th Nordic Talks Korea, themed "Bridging the Gender Divide in Entrepreneurship" / Courtesy of Nordic Talks

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Korea has made rapid progress in economic development, but it still has a long way to go in achieving gender equality in the workplace.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, which fell on March 8, the four Scandinavian embassies in Seoul ― Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden ― hosted the 11th Nordic Talks at Seoul Startup Hub to discuss the gender gap in entrepreneurship from Korean and European perspectives.

Two male ambassadors from the Nordic countries took part as panelists to share their thoughts on gender equality, especially in the field of economy.

Swedish Ambassador to Korea Daniel Wolven noted that the lack of gender diversity in entrepreneurship is not just an issue of fairness and equality, but also a question of economic growth.

"Women make up half the population, half of the workforce, half our creativity ― maybe more than half to be honest. There was a former Swedish prime minister who used the expression that gender equality is not only morally right, but it's also economically smart," Wolven said.

Finnish Ambassador to Korea Pekka Metso agreed that promoting women is not just about gender equality, but it is also necessary for economic growth and sustainable development.

"It's all about innovations, because without gender equality, we can't have the great innovations and creativity in the future. Nevertheless, the statistics show that women are largely underrepresented in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, especially in the high growth industry, such as ICT and technology," Metso said.

"I'm really happy to see that we have representatives from that field, joining the panel discussion, because especially in Korea that needs to be changed. And this goes also for Nordic countries, there are lots of changes we have to do among ourselves," Metso added.

Finnish Ambassador to Korea Pekka Metso speaks during the panel discussion of the 11th Nordic Talks
Finnish Ambassador to Korea Pekka Metso speaks during the panel discussion of the 11th Nordic Talks "Bridging the Gender Divide in Entrepreneurship" at Seoul Startup Hub, March 8. Left is moderator Liz Lee, COO and co-founder of TELEPASEE and co-managing director of Girls in Tech Korea, and right is Sara Shafiee, CEO and founder of DivERS from Denmark. Courtesy of Embassy of Sweden in Seoul

Sara Shafiee, CEO and founder at DivERS and assistant professor at Technical University of Denmark, shared her experiences as a female entrepreneur who faced challenges due to unconscious biases during recruitment processes. To reduce the influence of bias in hiring, Shafiee developed DiveERS, a data-driven technology which removes prejudices in the recruitment process.

She also noted that biases can affect the chances of women's success in entrepreneurship beyond just the hiring process. While she understands the frustration of being judged based on their background rather than their potential as an entrepreneur, Shafiee emphasizes the importance of resilience for entrepreneurs, seeing failures and threats as catalysts for growth.

"I try to answer them by talking about my future plans, my visions about the future and backup plans. But I have to confess that I was only comfortable with these discussions, because I have the support of the Danish government and the regulations regarding maternity that we have in Denmark. Otherwise, I couldn't have discussed that," she said.

"The point is that it is not enough to expect women to build resilience. That's part of the story. The other part is about how the government thinks and acts regarding solutions, policies and guidelines that can ensure equal opportunities for men and women. It is a partnership between female founders and their resilience and the governments and politicians altogether can help us disrupt the biases in society," Shafiee added.

Yunice Kim, executive director of D3 Jubilee Partners, gave a presentation on the gender divide in entrepreneurship in Korea, where women face challenges and barriers that limit their ability to start and grow businesses compared to men.

"One of the major barriers for women entrepreneurs in Korea are culture and social norms that prioritize men's roles as breadwinners, and women's roles as caregivers. This cultural stereotype makes it harder for women to access funding, gain support from their family members and access networks that are crucial for business success," Kim said.

Yunice Kim, executive director of D3 Jubilee Partners, speaks during the panel discussion of the 11th Nordic Talks
Yunice Kim, executive director of D3 Jubilee Partners, speaks during the panel discussion of the 11th Nordic Talks "Bridging the Gender Divide in Entrepreneurship" at Seoul Startup Hub, March 8. From right are Swedish Ambassador to Korea Daniel Wolven, Hana Kim, founder and CEO of WiseUp and Benja Stig Fagerland, founder and author of SHEconomy from Norway. Courtesy of Embassy of Sweden in Seoul

Benja Stig Fagerland, associate professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway School of Business, is also the founder and author of SHEconomy. She said the world is changing and recognizing the potential of women in various roles within business, including as leaders, entrepreneurs, board members, investors and employers.

Fagerland said it is important to fix the system and the culture, not women, which is a core value of corporate diversity responsibility (CDR).

"CDR is not only a diverse workforce that gives the company even better value and innovation, but also means business. And the concept helps to stimulate healthy economic and sustainable growth of companies," she said.

"CDR is not only about counting the number of women leaders or entrepreneurs, but rather how the system and culture encourage more female entrepreneurs to take the position and all kinds of diversity. Having greater diversity is a business advantage, which can both strengthen corporate culture and improve a leader's decision-making. It can also produce more and wider innovation, better resilience and deeper trust within the business and among the customers in the market," Fagerland added.

Hana Kim founded WiseUp, which provides virtual reality video conferencing studio services. She shared her entrepreneurial journey, including being raised in a family that told her she can become whatever she aims to be.

Although she faced gender bias as a young female CEO in the IT industry, Kim believes that more women can succeed as entrepreneurs and bring fresh perspectives and ideas.

"I'd like to say (to girls) that please trust yourself. You have higher potential than you expect. I see some female entrepreneurs behave like a male because they underestimate themselves. But I think, personally, being yourself is better than pretending who you want to be. You have potential power and your own strengths," Kim said, encouraging young women who aspire to be entrepreneurs to actively engage in networking.
Kwon Mee-yoo


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