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Maria Harju

Growing up in Finland, women’s rights and gender equality were things that I took for granted. My Viking women ancestors – who were the most fearless voyagers and the ones carrying the keys to their homes and stock rooms – had the most trusted roles in society. Over 1,000 years ago, Viking women had the right to initiate a divorce; something that’s still forbidden for women in many cultures. I come from a country that was the first in the world to give women the right to vote. I was born under the lucky stars.  

I have worked in international environments all of my professional life, and have learned to see it not quite the same everywhere. I am humbled by how lucky I was to get the education I did and experience equality around me.

The biggest challenge I have as a working woman with two children, three pets and living abroad with a garden I treasure, has been balancing my work life with my personal life. I am accustomed to being the only woman on the conference call, in the meeting room, at the dinner table; and accustomed to worrying when the kids fall sick during the school day, or of feeling unsafe when I have to fly to the other side of the world.  

When talking to colleagues and friends about these feelings, we conclude that these issues and emotions are typically there even for those that do not work. There are two difficult thing that causes women to stop progressing in their careers: 

First, others’ perceptions; the innate attitude of “You’re traveling again?”, “Call in the evening.”, “What about the family?” The guilt trip: “Do you prioritize work over your family and home?”

It’s the notion that one can’t have both a career and a healthy, happy personal life. These ideas make us think that it’s not okay to do what we do; it makes us doubt ourselves. Which leads me to my second point…

Our own self-worth. Who sets the boundaries on how much we take on, how we deal with it, and how we feel about it? That is ourselves. The check-in at the end of the day; “how did I do today?” Feeling confident in our abilities and qualities. Feeling that I am enough. Being merciful to ourselves, every day. Also, on busy days, when the kids no longer have clean socks in the morning. Will this traumatize my child, make the feel neglected? No! Have a laugh with them and stop feeling like a bad mum.

I find balance by systematically and consciously putting things into perspective and compartmentalizing. Being clear with myself that my girls are not worse off if I take a conference call in the evening. It is about being present when I am with them. That too, is compartmentalizing. It is about showing them that the world is filled with opportunities for them, and it’s up to them to embrace it.

Is it exhausting? Yes. Hard work? Yes. But, show me a mum that is not struggling with priorities and balance. Or even if you don’t have kids. It’s not about having a career or not, about traveling for work or not; it’s about doing what is right by you. Finding balance in a way that feeds your hunger for challenges, your values and ambitions. As for me, I feel it is my duty to show my girls that you can leave your country, start all over again, have a career – and still have the strongest, open and rich, fun relationship with your kids and loved ones.  

Yet, the feelings of guilt are there, always. There is not one traveling, hardworking mum who doesn’t know that feeling. This is a feeling, which factually limits many women at Foundever from taking on the next challenge or step in their career. It is important that we acknowledge this, and that we support one another. That we talk openly about this and find ways to create an environment for the working women and mums of Foundever to embrace opportunities without fear. To encourage them to speak up when they feel horrible about not being at home for the good night kiss, and help them feel ok.  

That we truly and openly encourage women to grow our competency and skill; and that roles and jobs will follow. Focus on self-growth, seek mentors, training and advice. Not to stress that having a career means forgetting who you are and that it means sacrificing something. It is not about taking on new titles and functions, but about growing in who we are and what we do. Having fun and laughing everything day. Blooming as women of the workplace.


In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the bold and powerful women of Foundever by sharing their stories – about balance, about success, about gender equality, about change, about what it feels like to be a woman today.

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