Mayor of Stockholm: ‘You can be a mother and a fantastic politician’
Publish date: 7 March 2019
Mayor of Stockholm Anna König Jerlmyr talks about her vision for the city's future, why she wants more girls to play chess and what makes Stockholm 'A Woman's Place'.
I think Stockholm is a fantastic place to be a woman. We are very aware of things like gender issues, equality and women’s rights. Though we have our challenges, of course! For example, two days ago I was sitting on a panel and we talked about FemTech and investment into female founders. A small percentage of venture capital goes to female founders and I think it’s such a big possibility for Stockholm -- we need more investment to go to female entrepreneurs.
But we also see progress. According to a new study by Dr. Nima Sanandaji, CEO of the think tank European Center for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, women in Sweden now make more money than men in 9 percent of all occupations. And furthermore, a majority of Sweden's young CEOs today are women.
When I was young, I felt like I had a lack of female role models. When I started in politics, I was 16 years old and the female politicians tried to be like men. They dressed like men and almost acted like men, and I could never relate to that. I feel really feminine and I like to dress feminine and be myself. But I think that’s changed now. You can be both, you can be a strong woman but you can also wear a dress, you can be a mother and a fantastic politician.
I think it was a British member of parliament who once said to me: ‘What are you doing here, you should be home raising children!’. I was also a member of parliament, it was at one of these European meetings and I was shocked. I think of Britain as an equal country, he was much older. But sometimes you get these questions and of course you remember these comments. They are very rare I would say. Most people are very positive. Now I’m president of Eurocities and when we went to Brussels they were so positive, saying this signalled a change.
I want to see more girls playing chess. I asked my son how many girls are in his chess club. None! I think chess is also a subject, if they are good in chess they are good in programming and mathematics. And we need more women to study engineering and become role models for others.
I am a really strong supporter of ‘feminist urban planning’. I work with NGOs about how we can have inclusive city planning. It’s also gender based, of course. If public spaces are safe for women, they’re safe for everyone. So we have to address women’s needs: it could be lighting, making sure it’s clean and that ground level is lit by lots of shops and restaurants. Safe play areas for children, too.
Stockholm is a good city for women when it comes to the possibility to achieve your goals. It’s almost like the American dream but it’s the Stockholm dream! You can do so much. You have fantastic possibilities because of the flat hierarchies and lots of the employers are also very open to flexible working. And you have a tax deduction on services like cleaning and home help. Now I think women can combine a career and have quality time with the children because they are not cleaning all the time!
In Stockholm, we have a lot of informal networks for women. It would be best if both men and women meet in the same informal networks in the long-run. But for now, it’s an answer to the traditional male-only networks. I see the younger generations meet together but even at an early age they separate at school, they tend to play differently. It’s really important to encourage girls to do engineering or for boys to be creative.
We are very tolerant and interested in new people. I hope so anyway! We are also quite a big city, and it’s a beautiful city. It’s a good place to raise a family. When people are asked why they chose Stockholm, it’s because it’s an equal city; men and women have the same opportunities and it’s a good place to raise children.
In the next ten years, I want half of Stockholm’s unicorn companies to be created by women. It would be great to have a female prime minister in Sweden and to see more female leaders in the business community, as well as female innovators. I want more girls to go to KTH and study engineering and programming and to work with safety in the segregated areas. I don’t want to see any ‘honour’ crimes, it’s the goal that in ten years these will disappear.
I want Stockholm to be an inclusive and open city in every way. Today Spotify can attract programmers from many countries where the culture is not so open and tolerant to, for example, LGBTQ people. Therefore, to work with LGBTQ rights is also a way of showing that this city is open and welcoming to everyone.