Marika Arvelid, Head of Digital Learning and Culture, E.ON Digital Technology

Read the full interview here

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. Tell us a bit about where you grew up, and those early influences that really shaped who you are today.

    A. I got very lucky early in life, and I was adopted in South Korea by a very loving and caring family and ended up living in Sweden. I grew in a little village in the countryside. It was such a small village we didn’t even have a traffic light.

    I was always very curious about the world. I had many opportunities at a young age to get acquainted with different countries. My parents loved to travel, and I’ve lived and worked in many different countries. The saying that “the world is your oyster” is really true for me.

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. Every leader today is expected to create an environment of diversity and inclusion on their team. What is your approach?

    A. Diversity to me is more than about just what you see, because what you see is not what you get with people. A lot of people may have a misconception of me being a shy Asian woman, but I’m not shy, and I’m very Scandinavian in my beliefs and my behavior. You have to be careful with judging a book by its cover, and part of diversity is to focus on the individual to understand who they are.

    Diversity and inclusion comes from many different dimensions. It’s all about being open-minded. If we could all just be less judgmental and try to better understand why someone is thinking in a certain direction or why they have a certain value set, then I think it would be also easier to collaborate together.

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. Have you encountered headwinds in your career because you’re a woman?

    A. Throughout my career, I have been denied promotions — because I was pregnant, because I worked part-time, because I didn’t speak a particular language or was not willing to relocate to a particular country. I’m not sure if it always was related to me being a woman, or not being Caucasian, but I have encountered those moments consistently in my career.

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. How did you deal with those headwinds?

    A. I tried to understand the concerns of my counterparts, which in many cases were men. I wanted to better understand where they were coming from, their value sets, their norms. Many of the executives I’ve worked at more senior positions have a partner at home who has a less challenging career.

    People make different choices and have more traditional frameworks at home. So I’ve always tried to understand, if I’m denied a promotion for any of the reasons I mentioned above, what their mental model is for making such decisions. I don’t think it’s always a bad reason, and I try not to be judgmental.

    From their mental model, they are looking for the best solution. I always try to believe in the good of people because people don’t act with ill intent. It’s just that their mental model doesn’t allow them to think beyond their current boundaries.

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. What is the best mentoring advice you’ve been given?

    A. The older you get, the more confident you become that you’re good enough the way you are. You are not perfect, and there are always things that you can work on and improve. But I am starting to accept that I am who I am – the good, the bad and the ugly – and to just deal with it.

    Someone once gave me the advice, “You know what, Marika? You always strive for perfection, and maybe on the outside it all looks very perfect. But the challenge is that no one likes perfect.”

    That stuck with me because the pitfall I have is to strive for perfection in a lot of things that I do, and I have come to realize more recently that that doesn’t serve anyone. It doesn’t serve me; it doesn’t serve the people around me in either the organization or in my family. So letting go of perfection is the one advice I would like to give to all women. Just don’t search for perfection because it doesn’t exist.

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. Other lessons that you share with women who you mentor?

    A. Sometimes women are a bit too humble and modest. They may say to themselves, I’m not sure if I know everything that I should know in order to be able to apply for a role. And I always say, don’t be so modest.

    I see many male colleagues being a lot more courageous in order to learn these things. They are willing to take greater risks and maybe promise things that they cannot yet do, but they give the impression and create the perception that they could do them. We know that perception is reality, so for women, it’s very important not to be too modest because then you get skipped over for opportunities.

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. There’s a world of difference between being a manager and a leader. When do you feel like you made the jump to leader?

    A. It’s the moment you’re willing to stand up for your cause, the team, the project, or whatever it may be. It’s easy to be a leader when everything is shiny and sparkly and going amazingly well. That’s when it’s easy to stand in the spotlight and take the credit.

    But when things are not going well and something happens, and you stand up for the team, that’s when you’re leading. You protect the people who are working for you, and you own the responsibility for whatever happened, big or small, that didn’t go as planned. It’s easy to be a leader in good times, but true leadership rises to the surface in difficult times.

  • Marika Arvelid

    Q. What do you think is the hardest part of leadership?

    A. The biggest challenge with leadership is to lead yourself. How do you prevent yourself from being too ego-driven? Great leadership also comes from being able to put your own ego to the side. That can be a challenge for a lot of leaders. If you’re being honest with yourself, are there moments when you are doing certain things for yourself, rather than for the team, the organization or the cause?

    What’s really the main driver behind it? Are you trying to prove something to the world? Is it then about you? A lot of us are driven by trying to prove something to ourselves. That can make it a big challenge as a leader to be self-aware enough — and to be able to fight your own ego — to move to that next level of leadership where it’s not about you.