International Women’s Day interview with driven SHIFT ladies


In case you didn’t know, in SHIFT we have these three amazing, strong and driven ladies, who are passionate about technology. To celebrate the International Women’s Day SHIFT wanted to contribute in Microsoft’s #SurfaceTheWomen -campaign. The common goal “to make visible 1/5 women who work in technology business” is a perfect way to bring out these power ladies of ours and their courage and hard-working attitude.



What is your job in SHIFT and why do you think it’s important?



MARI: I am the CEO of SHIFT and responsible for leading the team and ultimately making the most intelligent business event in the world happen once again in 2019 and beyond. In addition to being intelligent, SHIFT has always been more bright and natural – some say even more feminine – than most business and tech events. Already last year SHIFT cooperated with several organizations that promote equality in business and technology. In my position at SHIFT I intend to pursue this goal forward.


HEIDI: I am the Executive Producer. My job is to make sure the event looks, feels, sounds and tastes awesome, and that our attendees do learn, get inspired and find new partners, customers, and friends.


SINI: I have been working at SHIFT from the very start and currently, I’m the Head of Sales and Marketing. My team makes sure that we’ll get the best startups, most interesting technology, and industry players as well as 3000 forerunners to discuss more intelligent business and the impact technology has on people and our environment.



How have you ended up working in the event, which concentrates on constantly changing technology? How relationship to technology changed?



MARI: I started at SHIFT as a volunteer in late 2015. From the beginning, SHIFT has a uniquely combined world-class business program and glimpses of the newest technologies, mixed with thought-provoking art. Exploration of the possibilities new technologies open up to businesses were my inspiration to join the team in the first place.

My relationship to technology is somewhat ambivalent. As an early 80s kid, I am part of one of the last “still analog” generations. I am very interested in the effects the exponential development of technology has on humans and the society. On top of self-educating myself on technological development, I have completed the renowned Information Technology Program (ITP) at Aalto University in 2015. I have also studied the basics of web development and some programming languages, during my years working in the advertising agency and being responsible for digital marcom development projects for our clients.


HEIDI: I saw a post in a women’s network on Facebook that SHIFT is looking for someone to do their program. Before I worked in education field and I mostly saw technology as a useful tool to help people to communicate, but I wasn’t too interested how or why technology is developed.

I still remember the first program meeting when my boss told me that for SHIFT 2017 program, I must find an interesting case about VR, and I thought he meant the Finnish train company. Now I do know a bit more, and even though I think tech is still a good tool to communicate, it’s also a beneficial tool when solving much bigger problems. I believe we will need solutions technology can deliver, but we equally need to nurture the open discussion and fair competition in tech world to make sure the development is for good.


SINI: Erika Halonen is the one, who made SHIFT possible. She made sure SHIFT was built to connect the right thing from the start: technology, art and business. These things are certainly going to inspire us also in the future. She is the one who inspired me to make SHIFT the best event possible.

In my opinion technology belongs to everybody regardless of the company or job title. You don’t have to be a programmer or working in IT-company, to take part in the discussion or see the impacts of technology. Last fall I was working in San Francisco where my eyes were opened to see what all kinds of opportunities technology already provides us. The world is changing fast and we, as individuals, can affect the future with our behavior and choices.



What you have to offer for the discussion about #SurfaceTheWomen and #WomenInTech?



MARI: I am an advocate for genuine equality where gender does not matter – female, male or any other. Unfortunately there are both conscious and unconscious societal structures and thought bias which prevent the scale from magically balancing itself. Thus, we need to artificially put weight on the female side – for a while – to make the bias visible and offer people epiphanies that will change the way they think. When the scale is balanced, we can stop, but I predict that will take generations to change. Nevertheless, the work must be done now and that’s why I think these acts surfacing women in tech and business are extremely important.


HEIDI: I want to inspire more people and companies to implement and develop new technologies into their business.


SINI: I want to make sure that we have more women in the Tech industry and management roles.



What’s your opinion, how we get more women to work in tech business?



MARI: This is more of a long-term tactic, but we must make sure young girls know that it is perfectly normal to be interested in technology and pursue a career e.g. as a developer. As a crucial part of this, of course, we need to make the women in tech visible to the public. Parents should also make an effort once in a while to critically assess their own attitudes, so that they wouldn’t pass on biased thought patterns unintentionally forward to their children.


HEIDI: For women: I think #mimmitkoodaa, #womenintech, and other communities are a good start, the next step is to build a system to support the learning process for the ones actually interested to change their career. Also, even in Finland, one of the most gender equal countries in the world, work-life still favors men. It’s hard to change, it’s deep in the culture. I’d like to see more blind recruitments and less “setäkerhoja”. (=Communities that men in their 40- and 50s have, favoring each other, not including women.)

For girls: Role models like Linda Liukas.


SINI: In South-Africa and in certain other countries they have policies to guarantee equality. For countries like Finland radical policies like that aren’t necessary. Many of my acquaintances have started coding along with their pay job and I encourage everybody to learn at least the basics. To future generations, these abilities are possessed since elementary school.



Have you witnessed any prejudice about women in tech business?



MARI: Unfortunately, I have. The challenge is that prejudice is seldom intentional and malicious, I have found. These cases we can fight with the legislature for example. What I find harder to fight is the cultural bias affecting our decision making, for example in a situation where a male and a female are up against each other in a job interview for a leadership position. It has been proven, that males are more naturally seen as “leaders” and that the woman has to prove herself more just to get on the same line, and only then can the equal race begin. Of course, there are also employers who can truly see past the gender bias but harmfully often the unconscious gets the best of us. Also what is notable is that when it comes to the unconscious cultural thought patterns, females are just as prone to discriminate other women as men are.


HEIDI: I attend a lot of events and networking sessions with my coworkers. When we start to talk about technology with new people, they tend to start talking to my male colleague. And he does not know more than me. It’s a small thing but it annoys me that I always have to prove my knowledge, but it’s not required for men.


SINI: I haven’t personally witnessed any prejudices, but I have heard about incidents. I have been witnessing brilliant teams, where gender has no meaning. Even so, I think, women should support each other more!



Do you have a woman role model in tech business?



MARI: I look up to a lot of influential women in tech business. But I will drop one name here, who has been titled e.g. “the most powerful woman on the Internet”, that I would personally like to meet at SHIFT and truly hope one day she’ll join: Susan Wojcicki, one of the founders of Google, the CEO of YouTube.


HEIDI: Cathy O’neil. She is smart, brave and works towards goals I believe in.


SINI: Linda Liukas. She is an excellent example of a creative forerunner, who has found great business opportunities because of technology.