As Norway tops quality of life and gender equality indexes consistently, it is no surprise that more and more women are looking to leave Silicon Valley – and the bro-culture that dominates the valley- behind for beautiful fjords and generous paternal leave. We interview 4 women who took the plunge and embraced the Nordic lifestyle.
“I have been here three times for vacation before, and one of my best friends is living here. I love Norway. I am embracing the culture and have already started my Norwegian course. So far so good,” says Erica Gibson when we meet her at Telenor headquarters in Oslo.
Back in Silicon Valley she worked at an innovation center at a large medical system. Gibson was previously a professor of anthropology and women’s and gender studies for 7 years at the University of South Carolina.
Why did you relocate to Norway?
“When this opportunity became available, I thought this is such a pivotal point in Telenor’s development. It seemed like a perfect timing to join the organization and help create an open and accessible culture of research with my new colleagues.
Of course, when I see pictures of San Francisco it makes me homesick. At the same time it is a huge opportunity to contribute and reach millions of people in the world with our products. Especially in the emerging markets in Asia.”
Monica Iacob, like Erica Gibson, studied social science. She majored in psychology and was going to be a therapist. However, after graduation she started to look more into user research and product management. Originally from Romania, she moved to France and Switzerland and then to Norway. Many of her new colleagues at Microsoft in Norway could not understand how she moved from lovely south of France to Oslo.
“I moved for personal reasons, and I really enjoy living here. People are nice and genuine, and it is great place to live”, says Iacob.
She is now working as a head of My Contacts at Telenor and leading a multidisciplinary product team.
“To move to a new country and get a new job was a great opportunity for my personal development. It was not important whether the company was international or not. My biggest motivation is the challenge of building something useful that brings real value to users.”
She adds that several things surprised her when she moved to Norway. For example, how digitalized the nation is compared to the rest of Europe.
“There are apps for all kind of public services. It makes life so much easier when everything is done in two-clicks on your phone. It is amazing.”
Working 9 to 5
Lorian Leong is a product manager in Telenor. Her journey into tech and Telenor started with social science, business studies and career in music industry. At some point, she joined a music tech startup and became a techie. Leong started working with smartphones, apps and writing tech research papers in her spare time.
Leong is from Vancouver, and has before worked in Copenhagen and London. Her advice to people who want to move to Norway is to think well about what they would like to do after work.
“You should really think what you like to do in your spare time, because in Norway you often finish work at 4 or 5 pm. If partying each evening is important you, then may be Norway and Oslo is not the right place for you. If you have family, then it is a right place for you”, says Leong.
Both Gibson and Iacob agree with her.
“Coming from the grind at Silicon Valley where people are working 80 hours a week or more, to a place that really puts value on family life balance is a pleasure. Plus, you have premium outdoor experiences”, says Gibson.
Caren Quah is a global citizen and has lived in Seattle, London and China. She was working for Microsoft as a Senior Program manager on products like Skype, Bing Search and VOIP platform for emerging markets. Now she is living in Singapore and works on Telenor intrapreneurship program Ignite.
Quah explains that she appreciates flexibility of her working schedule, especially since has a 9-year-old son.
“Companies who value work life balance are practically non-existing in Asia, so I am really lucky that Telenor is in Singapore. For example, I have the luxury of sometimes work from home and do conference calls on video and everybody get four-week vacation,” says Quah.
Do you think you still get a lot done, although you can work less?
“Yes, we get a lot done”, adds Gibson.
“I also see that even though people leave the office at 3 pm to pick up the kids from kindergarten, they catch up on work in the evenings for one hour or two. However, they don’t have to do it all the time, and they have the freedom to choose. It is important for how productive you can be.“