Square Ladies’ Association & Inspiring Students 20 Years Down the Line

When I was about fifteen years old, our English teacher brought me and a group of other girls to a conference held by the Square Ladies’ association. In Swedish, a Square Lady (or ‘a lady with square’ if you translate it literally – admitting that my translation is more for fun than anything else) is a lady who has got punch, grit, and who knows what she wants. Don’t ask me why, but that’s what it means.  

Our English teacher was a very punchy lady herself, who tried to explain to a group of relatively uninterested teenagers that there was a difference between the behaviour of boys and girls in a class, and in how the teachers treat or address them. She also tried to teach us how to hold a proper presentation, with an introduction, a main part, and a conclusion, and how to captivate our audience. Mostly, I am afraid, her efforts seemed to be in vain. Not many fifteen-year-olds worry about those type of subjects, and especially not the first one. It is more interesting to have friends, and not stick out too much in class. Or, as an alternative to some, to be completely disrespectful because the teacher in question was pretty short and a bit on the round side. I think her name was Ann-Charlotte, or Ann-Christin, but I am ashamed to say I can’t remember. She was only at the school as a replacement teacher for one term or so. Yet, she is the only English teacher I remember clearly as she was one of the few I have ever had who showed real enthusiasm about her subjects.

So, there we were, a group of maybe five girls in a conference room at the Hilton in Stockholm together with our teacher, one evening in the early nineties, attending a Ruter Dam event. We listened to the welcome speech by the founder, Mrs Gunilla Arhén, dressed in what I think was a dark red jacket. I remember seeing the city lit up in the night outside the enormous windows, and feeling slightly bored. I have totally forgotten what the subject matter of the evening was, and I doubt I quite understood what they spoke about. Things such as semale board representation was a pretty vague thing for high school students, at least in those days. Not a big success you may say. 

The Square Ladies – Ruter Dam – began their activities twenty-five years ago. Their aim is to increase the number of women at high ranking positions in large Swedish companies. Note, not by quota systems (which makes me very happy), but by being business minded, and aiming at quality and results. They run a mentorship programme, hold events to sponsor and put forward the importance of having highly placed women in companies, and help provide female board members to companies. There is also an honorary title of “Ruter Dam of the Year” which is awarded annually and covered everywhere in national media. Ruter Dam has become one of the leading, if not the leading, organisation in Sweden on the topic. They are also aware of the importance to implicate men, for example as speakers and sponsors, in their activities, which also makes me really happy – see my previous note on this).  

Today, the subject is much less vague, and much more present and debated around the world, which is why I thought of Ruter Dam and that I should put something on the blog about it. I have also heard that if you talk about something, it increases your chances to take action on what you say : setting up a similar initiative in France would be more than interesting. Finally, I want to applaud my unnamed English teacher for trying to make her students aware of these questions twenty odd years ago, and for planting a seed of thought into one or two heads.

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