Heroines of Telia Company

It is International Women's Day, so today Telia Company wants to hear from just a few of the company’s many true champions. We asked them to tell us about how they came to work in the telecom industry, how they look at leadership and their careers.

“I feel proud to have these women as colleagues,” says Anne Larilahti, Head of Group Sustainability Strategy. “Having said that, I want to encourage everyone at Telia to be curious, and dare to step out of your comfort zone and of the boundaries that society sometimes put on us. Be yourself, work and lead with integrity, fairness and openness. Those are not feminine or masculine traits but characteristics of great colleagues and leaders. Today, though, we focus on gender equality and strong women, and it feels good to be inspired by these women.” 

Meet them yourself, below.

“This industry chose me.”
Priya Sawhney, works with Strategy execution and Market Development Forecast
Lives: Stockholm
Works: Stockholm (Solna)
Born: 1969
Interests: Animal rescue and writing (“I have two published books, The Possibility of Hope and The Making of Dog and I recently started a blog.

“I started out in the telecom industry right after business school in India, as Project Manager at one of the first telecom companies in India. I actually made one of the first mobile phone calls ever in India, with just one base transceiver station up and running. I remember how we often stayed at the office all night, in calls with international suppliers and partners, just exchanging experiences and learning about telecommunications technology as we went along. We had to learn – and do – everything quickly and very much hands-on.
“It was intense, and fun. One day I could be presenting the business case for a cellular operation to an international bank in New Delhi, desperately hoping to get funding. The next day I could be visiting the Telecom Ministry, or be driving around New Delhi in an old Ambassador loaded with handsets, dropping them off at selected retail outlets.
“I didn’t choose this industry. It chose me. The innovation and development potential in telecoms, and my own personal purpose to connect people and the planet and contributing to the greater good, made it a perfect fit.
“I have seen many company cultures and experienced people’s different attitudes. And you’ll always come across people who may not have the most open attitude towards equal opportunities. But, it is the management’s job to establish a culture and set the standard for appropriate behavior. My perception of Telia Company, which is based on 17 years of experience, is that we have grown. We have – very proactively – developed a strong, ethical and professional standard and we strive to achieve equal opportunity in employment. I have felt this both when working in Swedish operations and in several Group functions. I have seen the opposite, where if you were a woman, you had to try much, much harder. I handled that by focusing on other, more positive things and by not feeling sorry for myself. I stepped up and worked harder. I believe that if you do your job with integrity and with your whole heart, things work out. Every challenge in my career since, has been manageable because of the colleagues who have been part of my professional journey and network.
“At Telia I want to serve to create a better world, through thought-leadership and excellent execution. I am the kind of leader that walks the talk, and I am quite direct in showing the way. I also work together with my team to achieve good results, and to enable personal and business growth. Life is too short to sit around and not add value to our business, to our people and to myself.”

“I want to be the head and the heart of the unit.”
Lina Strelkauskienė, Head of Unix Service Management Unit, Telia Lithuania
Lives: Vilnius, Lithuania
Works: Vilnius, Lithuania
Born: 1980
Family: I am married and have a 5-year-old son
Interests: Science fiction and fantasy books, traveling, yoga

“I started my professional life as billing operator at a subsidiary company, the “Baltic Data Center”, of what is today Telia Lithuania. After a couple of years my manager, who was leaving, encouraged me to lead the entire team. For the last ten years, I’ve been the IT unit manager. It’s been such an inspiring journey.
“During programming courses in school, I understood that I really like programming. I was the best in my class. I also read a lot of science fiction and fantasy and truly believed that AI would change the world someday. So, I decided to study Informatics. That’s 20 years ago now - I had no personal computer, no smartphone and no social networks. But it turned out to be a smart decision.
“As a manager – and as an employee – I think that Telia does offer equal opportunities when it comes to developing, to taking part in interesting projects, making decisions and to grow professionally. 
“Life to me is about finding balance, and I’m proud that I have the opportunity to participate in social initiatives at Telia. During almost 15 years here, I’ve learned a lot and now I can share my knowledge with others. I am doing lectures to students about online safety, I am supporting women in finding their technology strengths through “Women go tech” and I am teaching young students at the IT Academy. And of course, I ensure that our clients receive IT services that we can be proud of. It’s a big satisfaction to know that you are doing the right things, in the right way.
“I like to think that I am the “Head and Heart of the Unit”. My head is used for roadmaps, budgets, processes and Key Performance Indicators. My heart is for people, inspiration and trust. I see myself on a mission to support my team in doing their job even better. That’s the kind of leader I am.”

“Equality is the strongest foundation of a better world”
Kia Tolppanen, Business Analyst, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Telia Finland.
Lives: Jyväskylä, Finland
Works: Jyväskylä
Born: 1990
Family: Fiancé
Interests: Traveling, boating, new ideas

“I was a summer trainee at Telia, during my university studies in Information Systems. Then I got a job working in the technical B2B part of customer care – and I really liked the people and the industry.
Eventually I was offered to work in RPA, as a developer. Nowadays I work a lot with business-related cases and really love the combination of business and technology.
“My team and I see diversity as a richness. I have worked with such empowering professionals, of all genders. I really can’t say that I’ve had any truly negative experiences. I have had one or two really stupid ones, such as someone saying, "It’s surprising that you are actually so smart, being such a young, beautiful woman". That kind of thing is just sad. But that’s rare, and I truly hope that the positive, diverse atmosphere that I have worked in is felt in all of Telia Company.
“The best thing in life is exploring and learning new things, whether it’s new technologies, cultures or ideas. Today I work with new things every day, and I have worked hard to get into the right mindset. As you learn, you’ll fail every now and then. And that’s ok. You won’t master everything right away, but you will in time if you make an effort. I like to think of myself as more of an expert, than a ‘leader’. Having said that, I love to see people who discover their full potential and who can then fully enjoy their work and their life.
“It sounds corny, but I feel I want to make the world a better place – and have fun while doing it. I hope I can achieve both of those goals. Also, equality is the strongest foundation of a better world.”

“I felt this strong, inner power.”
Kairi Meister, Head of Development, TV and Multimedia, Telia Estonia
Lives: Tartu, Estonia
Works: Tartu and Tallinn, (“The drive between the two is about 185 km”)
Born: 1977
Family: My partner and 9-year-old son
Interests: My family, reading, skiing and drawing (“I am trying deep-printing techniques right now.”)

“I am lucky to have such a dedicated team. We have the right competences and that’s why we feel we can move mountains, if necessary. We constantly develop and adopt new and improved working methods, and so we are able to keep creating new thing and testing them. I am very proud of the people in my team. We absolutely love humour, that’s our bond and it helps us make the job even more enjoyable.
“I just dived into the telecom industry. You need to dare. I believe I have the curiosity, the courage, the openness and the self-confidence to create opportunities for myself.
“I joined Telia six years ago. I soon realized that my strongest asset was communication and team leadership. People are actually a little bit more my passion than technology is. I do see a challenge in getting to focus on both. In an attempt to do that I joined the team of project managers, and by chance I got to manage TV projects. I didn’t know much about that world, to be honest. But then I got to head a huge project; the smart TV launch.
"I realized that I took the situation and the people to heart. I felt this strong, inner power and I took the initiative to make our department shine again. Together, we did it! It took a bit of time, but today we deliver a great product of high quality. I also really like the conscious-management culture that we have in Telia, where it’s more about coaching.
“I want to continue to lead my team, I want us to grow together and become even more effective and successful. I want to make sure the innovative spark never fades.
“In my private life I sometimes feel a bit restless about those issues and big questions that arise in most people’s lives. Am I still in the right place? Am I doing the best job that I can? Do I have a balance between work and family? What is my true goal in life? I want to obtain the complete skill set to be even more present than I am today. I also want to learn to completely notice – and enjoy – the silence in between the hectic times.
“When it comes to equality, I think Telia is doing well. We are constantly moving in the right direction. I do really feel proud of that. And I hope we’ll keep creating the kind of in-house dream teams that I have, all across the company.”

“We need to keep listening” 
Ronja Vemmer, Project Coordinator, Telia Denmark
Lives: Vanløse, Denmark
Works: Copenhagen
Born: 1989
Family: My boyfriend, Morten
Interests: Family, concerts and DIY projects

“I joined Telia, at Broadband Customer Service, in January 2016. Now I am ‘Kundeminister’ for our customer channels, a customer liaison of sorts, which means that I focus on how we can make a difference for our customers. I’m in charge of a project in which our advisors can send ideas to improve our processes and the general experience for our customers.
“Today, almost everybody needs a phone and the internet, so at Telia we have a big responsibility. It’s great to be a part of a company that has that kind of responsibility towards the customer. And it feels great to be part of a company that is good at equality, too. I have had no such bad experiences here.
“In my job at Telia I get to meet so many interesting people. That means that I can gain a lot of fascinating insight, but also that I sometimes have difficulty to stop myself from getting too involved in things. There are so many huge possibilities with Telia and you want to do it all sometimes. My biggest motivation is to make it easy and fun to be a Telia customer. We need to keep listening to our customers and develop on their terms.
“When it comes to leaders, I find it important that leaders coach their team members, and serve as a kind of sparring partner for ideas.”

"We will go to the end of the world"
Elin Axelsson, Store Manager, Mall of Scandinavia store, Solna
Lives: Stockholm
Works: Stockholm (Solna)
Born: 1996
Family: “Yes, of course, and a boyfriend.”
Interests: Cheerleading (“Yes, it is a sport.”)

“I started working in the Telia store in the Mall of Scandinavia when it opened in November 2015. Today I am the store manager. And I am proud of that. I enjoy working here. You can’t be here if you’re not the right person, I think. You need to be truly interested in people and have a passion for giving any person a great experience. And I guess you can say you need to keep your own stuff in check. It is stressful at times. I am genuinely interested in people and love to interact with people.
“Most of us who work here take it seriously, we do take calls from customers in our spare time and on weekend evenings. Most of us even come by on days off from time to time to make sure a particular customer case is being handled or just to chat to a colleague. We are a passionate group of people.
“In here, we will basically go to the end of the world to support our customers, in any situation with any service. But it also means we work really hard to get them to come on a journey with us. That is the journey where they discover that we actually have really cool, top-quality and digital services. I feel, honestly, proud of our services. Many of them are amazing, and often I can see that the customer agrees.
"In the company, we’re good at equality. In the store? That’s occasionally a different story. I still have store customers looking over my shoulder when I am helping them, and they are looking for a male store agent to help them instead. Occasionally they even ask me if “that guy over there” can’t help them instead, because they think their issue is too technical for me. That’s never the case though, that I can’t help them.
“I am proud to work at Telia. I do hope we can work even harder on becoming ‘one’ Telia, as we develop. I look forward to seeing that happen.”