Helping People Get to the Top of Their Tree To Enjoy Their View
How our Head of Global Talent Management unleashes individual potential at Ericsson.
Selina Millstam has worked as a leader at some of the world’s most successful companies including Nike, and consulting firm Oliver Wyman. Today, she leads talent management for the global business of over 100,000 employees in 180+ countries at Ericsson. Throughout her career Selina has been motivated by enabling others to realize their potential. As part of our celebration of Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Month, our Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Emma Birchall, interviewed Selina to find out what she’s learned along the way and how she drives inclusion in her work.
For Selina, she has always felt the greatest sense of achievement when helping others to succeed. Selina’s passion for enabling others to realize their potential is made possible by her non-hierarchical approach. According to Selina, teams are at their best when each person can speak up, challenge, and share their ideas, and be unconstrained by where they happen to be in the organizational chart. She believes this is important in today’s world of work where change is rapid, and innovation is key.
Transparency is an important part of Selina’s approach, and she practices this with her team continuously. In her view:
“Old leadership models emphasized guarding and often withholding information as a source of power. That doesn’t work today when we need people at all levels of our organization to be making fact-based and courageous decisions. My approach is share what you can and be up front about what you can’t. What creates problems is any feeling that information is hidden without explanation.”
Lastly, inclusion is key in Selina’s approach to leading others and ensuring her team feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. This is also part of the cultural transformation she is driving across Ericsson’s 110,000-person workforce across 180+ locations. She is driving a culture of empathy and humanness where people understand, accept, and embrace their differences and appreciate the differences of others.
“If you want people to bring their best ideas, deliver great work and enjoy the process of doing so, then you need to make sure they are not distracted by feeling they need to hide parts of their identity or switch from who they are to who they feel they need to be.”
Her decade-long career in consulting has not been without its challenges. Early on in her career, she found that there were few female leaders in the field whom she could look up to as role models. This made it even more important for the senior men where she worked to practice inclusivity and mentorship. She was grateful that some of the senior men in her team became her mentors.
“They saw in me progression capacity that I didn’t yet see in myself, and that was incredibly powerful. I valued their expertise and having their support made me more resilient and better able to learn and grow.”
For Selina, this was early insight into the importance of allyship and the impact you can have by investing in someone’s success, particularly if they are from an underrepresented group in the organization and have few examples of people like them making it to the top.
Selina is also candid about the moments when she felt undermined simply because she was a woman in the industry. At the age of 26, she gained the highest score on an executive coaching program. A male colleague reacted with “Of course you got the highest score. Who doesn’t want to be coached by a hot, blonde woman?” Selina describes the moment of feeling great and then deflated. She reflects that at the time she didn’t have the experience to know how to respond and emphasizes that her reaction would be quite different now.
Empowering female entrepreneurs
Selina has been developing global leaders for more than 20 years. This is the thread that has woven together Selina’s roles as a social worker in Detroit, Michigan, supporting underserved communities; as a board member of Giving Wings, a Sweden-based foundation supporting girls and women in gaining independence through education and healthcare; and as an external and internal consultant in the talent space with Oliver Wyman, Nike, and Ericsson.
Selina is also keen to accelerate the pace of change when it comes to increasing the representation of women and other underrepresented groups who have faced specific, structural barriers to progression. One of her achievements in this space is ALTitude, Ericsson’s global career accelerator program designed to help advance talented women in the organization. In 2021, 71 percent of ALTitude’s participants moved roles internally within 12 months of completing the course. More than a third of the position changes included a step up in seniority. Selina is keen to highlight that programs like this are not about giving advantage to one group over another, but rather about removing the systematic and structural barriers that unfairly hold some groups back.
The importance of mentorship
Selina has had many role models throughout her career. In her role at Nike, she reported into two women who took on the role of mentors. “They pushed early on the importance of self-awareness and calling out challenging situations,” says Selina. One important lesson that they taught her was that as a leader she didn’t need to know everything or have all the answers; she realized that her impact would instead be through appreciating how little any of us know in isolation, and employing the power of curiosity and inquiry. This has informed her focus on collaboration and cooperation in Ericsson’s culture transformation, with a view to driving commercial success through inquiry and knowledge-sharing:
“Realizing how little you know is actually empowering compared with the burden of feeling you have to know everything.”
Role models have also been critical to Selina’s sense of self belief. She recalls a moment with one of her mentors in consulting when she was about to facilitate a workshop for an executive team. She had the overwhelming feeling of not knowing enough and was anxious about the participants’ appetite for debating and challenging. She went to her mentor concerned she couldn’t handle it. He responded with, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You can do this.” She says that his confidence in her was so powerful at that very moment that it gave her enough courage to calm her nerves and face her fears.
Finding the right work-life balance
Selina feels that like many people, she has at times had to sacrifice being with friends and family to advance in her career. However, she’s keen to highlight that what has felt like a sacrifice, actually enabled her to be better in some of the most important roles she holds, namely as a mom and as a leader:
“For me specifically, I’m a better mom because I work, and I’m better at working because I’m a mom.”
For Selina holding these many roles enables her to prioritize, and to appreciate the people in her life. It has also strengthened her conviction that we all need to keep our work in context. While work sometimes takes precedence, when there is a big deadline for example, Selina believes that people deliver their best when they feel their out of work relationships are strong and that they have enough time and energy to be with the people they love.
“To me it’s important that we have our priorities straight. I regularly remind my team that this is just work. It’s important, but not as important as your family and friends. The importance of work-life balance is something we’ve become increasingly aware of in the last two years with the pandemic as people have needed more time to be there for friends and family.”
A modest approach
Being humble and holding that humility and confidence at the same time is the most pertinent leadership lesson Selina has learned. She highlights that it’s not specific to being a female leader but applies to everyone:
“As you become more senior in an organization, it’s easy to lose that humility particularly as people start changing how they interact with you, often deferring to your idea or opinion. This can be the undoing of a leader if it results in a lack of speak up in the team and prevents others from sharing ideas or identifying risks.”
This lesson has transformed Selina’s own approach, and the approach within Ericsson when it comes to seeking perspectives across the organization. In 2021, Selina invited all 110,000 Ericsson employees into an open, online conversation about the company’s culture. People were able to ask questions and make comments on a range of challenging topics including “how can we ensure everyone feels safe to speak up?” and “how can we be better at executing speedily?” That these questions were posed to people across the organization, rather than answered by leaders and consultants, demonstrated Ericsson’s belief that everyone’s ideas and perspectives count. It also reinforced the message that leaders are not here to provide the answers, but to ask questions.
Connections that matter
For Selina, Ericsson’s core business is in enabling connection and this is a particularly important achievement given the reliance on digital communication throughout the pandemic:
“I feel proud to be a leader in a company that enables us to do everything from access healthcare to stay in touch with friends and family.”
And Selina’s not the only one who feels a sense of pride. As a company, Ericsson is proud to have Selina on its team. Thanks to her sincerity, hard work, and commitment to empowering others, more people across our organization feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. Find our more about Selina’s work to drive inclusion here.