Inspiring Woman in Fleet : Jovana Jovic (Volvo)
“I’m triggered by what seems impossible”
Jovana Jovic, Head of Direct to Consumer Transformation (Volvo Cars)
When it comes to women’s rights and gender equality, Sweden is one of the world’s most progressive countries. But even the best of work environments throws up obstacles for women – obstacles men might not even notice. Jovana Jovic has done better than notice them, she has overcome them. That probably owes something to the Volvo executive’s personal motto: “When others say it’s impossible, I’m triggered into action!”
Until a few years ago, the automotive ecosystem was almost exclusively male. Women who found themselves in the industry, and especially in positions of power, had to have an ‘origin story’. They were constantly asked: How did you get here? Jovana’s story is an interesting one. Years ago, when she was an outside consultant on a Volvo project, there was one particularly challenging stakeholder she had to contend with.
“Later, it was that same person who called me to offer me a temporary assignment. I accepted as a personal challenge: I wanted to learn to work with everyone, giving a second chance to a first (and not so good) impression. And now, my work for Volvo has become permanent. That person? He became a mentor, and a friend.”
What kind of challenges does a woman face in a mainly male-dominated industry?
“My major at university was in Leadership, so I’ve read up on the kind of injustices women are facing in their working environment. Knowing all that, 24-year-old me, fresh out of business school, thought: That’ll never happen to me. We live in a modern, equitable society. I was wrong.”
“Early in my career, there were many challenges that related to me being a woman. Some examples: being actively excluded from discussions, even though male colleagues were invited, regardless of seniority; not being backed up by male colleagues when openly treated unfairly; needing to prove my analysis or work several times more than male peers; my ideas being dismissed before they were even properly presented; and having male peers promoted over me.”
And yet a more gender-balanced workforce offers companies a range of strategic advantages: better insights, viewpoints and talents.
“Indeed. I firmly believe that diversity has many positive things to contribute to any company and industry. In my personal case, I’m sure I have helped enrich our industry and our business, and that I will continue to do so.”
In the time you’ve been in this industry, how have you seen the male-female balance change? And what kind of effect has that had?
“I would say we’re more aware of the lack of balance than we were just a couple of years ago. And that’s an important step – just acknowledging that an imbalance exists. However, it seems to me that not all companies are as focused on overcoming that imbalance. There are still a lot of management teams in this industry that effectively are exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, especially in the higher echelons of the corporate ladder.”
So, what advice would you give to CEOs looking to reduce the gender imbalance among their workforce?
“They should actively look for and recruit women to all roles, especially the leading positions in the company. Why the ‘active’ part? Because in any male-dominated industry, it’s men who are by default doing the recruiting into their teams. And it’s a very human trait to look for people like us – people who ‘remind us of our younger selves’. So, men are much more likely to recruit other men. If we’re aware of this, we can actively seek to create more objectivity in our recruitment.”
“Secondly, as we are raised in a society that reinforces traditional gender roles – in an updated version, yes: but still specifically gender-based – women do not come forward to actively seek certain positions. To put it differently: for every woman that asks about opportunities to advance, there are many more men doing the same. So we need to actively seek women, and in a different way than our current recruitment and promotion processes allow.”
Talking about women advancing their career: How exactly do you do that?
"When you’re young, it takes time to build experience. If you want to be taken seriously, always do your research and analysis, and always know the facts. Don’t get distracted or disappointed that ‘others’ don’t need to do the same. When you excel in what you do, you will build your experience and your confidence. And you will have that for the rest of your working life.”
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to that 24-year-old you, fresh out of business school?
“Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. If you really want something, ask for it. The worst thing that can happen is that you get a ‘no’.”
Women with careers are still expected to be wives and mothers to a greater degree than their male colleagues are expected to be husbands and fathers. How do you deal with those challenges?
“First off, it’s difficult to combine a professional career with other life roles, regardless of gender. What matters is that you have the support of your partner or your family, or that other solutions such as babysitters and cleaning services are available and affordable.
However, from my experience, it’s still more the men who get the support from their wives or girlfriends when they pursue their professional career than the other way around. That’s because it is still more accepted for a father to choose an absorbing career than for a mother.”
“There are also other factors impacting the decision which of the partners in a young family continues working. Pay inequality is an important factor, as men on average earn more for the same jobs as women in almost any industry. It is everybody’s responsibility to help create a more equal society, from individuals to governments and companies. Governments should support parental leave on an equal basis. Companies should pay men and woman equally for the same jobs. Volvo Cars does, by the way. And everybody needs to see beyond traditional gender roles. However, as pay inequality persists, it’s understandable that more families choose for the partner with the higher income to continue working…”
“… Which brings me to my own family. When I met my husband, it was clear that this was a relationship that would last the rest of our lives. He has been – and continues to be – incredibly supportive, my rock in life. I genuinely love to learn and love to work. If others have been less supportive of our choices in their comments, questions or advice, it hasn’t mattered. Even if it didn’t go unnoticed.”
Final questions: Who inspires you? And what are you most proud of?
“My heroes are the people I learn from every day. And I’m most proud of all the people I’ve come to know in my career. Economy is a social science. So interacting with others is not just very enriching, it’s part of work. And on top of that, there are certainly a couple of deliverables – business ideas and inventions – that I have delivered on, and that I’m particularly proud of.”
“I wrote one of the first algorithms in Sweden on how to sell online advertising space to advertisers, which was later used by the large media houses in Sweden. I delivered a large, multinational analysis and plan to fund and roll out a fiber network, back in the day when the internet was not available in most households in Western Europe and the U.S.; it was a female senior manager that gave me this opportunity to lead a large multinational team, by the way. And I wrote the second edition of Volvo’s Direct to Consumer strategy, which I’m now fully implementing, together with more than 400 colleagues.”
|Head of Direct to Consumer Transformation
Before Volvo, almost 10 years at a global strategy consulting company.
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