Interview with Karin Josefsson A role model for the many, not the few

“Often I try to highlight capable women, so they’re on people’s radars when jobs open up.” So wrote Karin Josefsson in her submission to Universum’s Female Role Model of the Year Award this autumn.

She would go onto win the Saab-sponsored award, but it was clear from speaking with her, that perhaps the award should simply be named Role Model of the Year.

As a director at SSAB (Swedish Steel AB), the 34 year old hasn’t just been talking up promising young women, who could potentially be overlooked in the next round of promotions or job openings. No, she’s singing the praises of other often overlooked groups, such as those with non-academic backgrounds, male or female, so that they don’t miss their shots too. In this regard, she is a role model for all.

Karin herself is clearly on people’s radars. It is award season for her. First scooping 15th place in Swedish business magazine Veckans Affärers top 101 super talents, and now with the Female Role Model of the Year Award.

SSAB, is a global steel company with the capacity to push out 8.8 million tonnes of steel per year. In what is a traditionally male-dominated industry, she stuck out, but obviously in all the right ways. She explains: “More females than males have this idea that in order to succeed, you need to dress a certain way, you need to present yourself as all-knowing, that you’re perfect. I’ve rejected that.”

“For me it has been positive to be young and female. Coming in being young, trying things I haven’t tried before and saying ‘hey, you’re the experts, describe what’s happening here and I’ll contribute with the knowledge I have’. Also, I’ve never been afraid to speak to people much higher up in the company; you have the right to have an opinion and at least to try and voice it. For me, the reaction has been positive.”

The key to success, she says, is to be yourself and not pretend to be somebody else.

“If you talk to people who have reported to me, or have been my managers, I think most would describe me as someone who has a personality, and have the same personality at work or at home. I talk a little too much, I am a bit goofy sometimes, and I mean, that’s OK, if you do a good job you can keep your personality and succeed. You don’t have to play a role, being somebody else.”

She elucidates when she in turn describes what she looks for in a role model: “Someone who is real and true. It includes making mistakes and talking about mistakes. That’s one thing I have been talking a lot with females about, who could become managers yet lack the self-esteem. They think that being a manager is to not mind taking tough decisions, or that you never come home in the evening with your head spinning about a decision, or whether you were harsh in a meeting. They think you need to have this Teflon skin, so I have been talking a lot with them about my insecurity and my thoughts, and through that show that being a role model is being a human.”

This human, this confident, yet humble and transparent approach are all qualities most would look for in a boss. This fact is obviously not lost on SSAB where she’s received four promotions in four years, and as Director of Operational Development took responsibility for 120 employees.

Her approach, her rise and ever growing connections at SSAB expose her quite naturally to questions from young people on their futures. ‘What course should I choose, what career should I follow?’ these are perhaps the most common questions she receives. Here, she keeps her advice simple.

“Base your decisions on what you think is fun. It’s good to think about what gives you energy. So when engineering students come to me and they are frustrated because they’re not sure what course to follow, I ask ‘what do you like?’ If you like it you will do a good job, then it doesn’t matter if it is chemical or mechanical, you will do a good job.”

Karin ticks all the boxes for a good role model, but does she have a role model herself? “Not one specifically. I look up to people that do things which are driven by their heart, who might stick out from the obvious path. Perhaps someone who stepped down from a prestigious C-suite executive role, to spend more time with their children. For that person, it was the right thing to do. I respect that.”

Whilst she doesn’t have a specific role model, she will receive a specific mentor from Saab as part of her award. Who would she like? “I am still a relatively new boss, so I would really like someone with heavy-weight management experience and particularly on the marketing and sales side, as that is an area which really interests me and where I’d like to expand my knowledge.”

Before she escapes for another meeting she adds: “I’d like to use the award as a lever to talk to young females, with the message you don’t have to be perfect, it is OK to speak your mind; I’m going to use the award as a door opener.”

We wouldn’t expect anything less.


Fact box

During the Talent Excellence Summit & Awards, Sweden's most attractive employer was presented with Saab retaining top position among professional civil engineers for 2017.

In connection with the event, Saab, after evaluating submissions, presented the Female Role Model of the Year Award. The award aims to draw attention to young female role models in business who inspire others.


Learn more about careers at Saab.

Filmed interview with Karin upon receiving the award (in Swedish).