• Laura Hay, Leadership |

It’s one of the toughest career decisions we may face at some point: Should you change jobs or employers when things are going pretty well where you are right now?

I’d also venture to say that, in my experience, men are more likely to ‘take the leap,’ while woman often stay put – perhaps out of loyalty or fear of the risks. As a result, women may miss out on potential career growth or advancement.

That’s why it was a pleasure to meet Jenny Garneij, Head of People within Personal Banking at Nordea, the largest financial services group in the Nordic region. Despite modestly professing to me that she’s really ‘risk averse,’ Jenny has made bold career decisions in pursuit of fresh challenges.

I found it intriguing that one of Jenny’s favorite expressions, “Don’t be a tumbleweed!” seems more suited to the American wild west than the orderly, green Nordic lands where she made her career. Jenny laughed as she explained that, “I heard the quote at a leadership course in the US and it stayed with me. It reminds me that you shouldn’t let the wind just push you along. Instead, you must decide for yourself where to go.”

Learning to make tough decisions

Jenny told me how that old cowboy expression played a role when making a big move early in her career. After happily working almost nine years at a consulting firm, she received an offer from SEB (a large bank in Sweden) to become the senior expert for the global Human Resource Director. She recalls that, “It was a hard decision because I was very happy in my role. My firm believed in me, I was recognized by the management team, and they wanted to invest in me. In fact, I was one of the few women sent on a leadership development program. I felt bad and cried when I gave my notice to my fantastic manager – but in retrospect, it was the right plan for me.”

So how did Jenny push herself to switch companies? “I realized that I was so busy with daily matters and projects that I was ‘kind of down in my tunnel’. I saw this as an opportunity to see something from a different angle and contribute on a new level,” Jenny recounted, adding that she also foresaw the chance to work for an amazing female role model.

Reflecting on her ambitions, Jenny observed that, “I have a strange habit of ending up outside my comfort zone, even if that is not my intention. But at the same time, I know that this is where learning usually takes place.”

Jenny had another opportunity to make such a jump several years later. Just days after returning from maternity leave, Jenny received an unexpected call from her CEO’s office, asking her to take a new role as speech writer and senior advisor to the President and CEO of SEB.

Although Jenny momentarily balked at accepting the spontaneous meeting with the CEO, she soon decided to take the job: “This was an opportunity to build on my strengths on a more holistic level, and the idea of playing this through thrilled me. I knew this post would be equally as exciting as demanding – since I would typically be moving from HR processes to macroeconomics – and at the same time I had a small child at home. However, that little dose of ‘unknown’ and curiosity made me ask myself ‘What if?’ And obviously getting to work for one of the most prominent CEOs in Sweden was in itself a great honor. It was tough, but it was one of the times in my life when I learned the most – and quite often those two things coincide.”

When I asked Jenny for her big picture advice for women climbing the ladder, her underlying modesty surfaced: “I’m grateful that I was never exposed to anything that could offset me at the start of my career, and I really believed that if you do an awesome job, someone will recognize you. That said, it’s important for women to believe in themselves, dare to be bold and find their voice.”

Jenny concluded that, “Women can also build their own networks and co-create with other women. That way, if you have any doubts, you can reach out to your network, get energy from them, pull yourself together, and go for it again.”

That’s terrific advice from a self-proclaimed ‘risk-averse risk taker.’

More about Jenny Garneij: Jenny is Head of People within Personal Banking at Nordea, a full-service universal bank based in Finland, and the largest financial services group in the Nordic region. Previously, she was Chief Human Capital & Communications Officer with Nordnet Bank AB, a digital bank for savings and investment customers. Prior to entering financial services, Jenny was a consultant at Accenture, advising major clients on organizational change strategy and human resources management. She was later recruited by SEB, a Swedish financial services group for business, corporate and institutional clients across the Nordic and Baltic countries, as a Senior Strategic HR Expert to the Group Head of HR and Organizational Development. Her last three years at SEB she was Advisor and Speechwriter to the CEO.

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