Helping others discover their light bulb moment is a great feeling

Mette Johansson has worked in leadership roles at multinational corporations for 15 years before she founded MetaMind Training, a training consultancy which provides learning programmes in leadership, people and communication skills.

Mette is driven by seeing others develop and grow – professionally, as well as personally. She loves and lives learning. She is currently the Chair for KeyNote – Asia’s Women Speakers, Asia’s leading directory of female speakers.

Recognised as a Women Icon Asia in 2019, Mette took time out to respond to queries from AsiaBizToday on her career, experiences and passion that keeps her going.

How would you encapsulate your professional journey and experiences?

I was working for a large company in various roles. I don’t think I was necessarily discriminated against – I rather experienced what silences a lot of women: being discredited. Many women are not as confident in their skills as men are, and when we are not seen as leadership potential, we start believing that we’re nothing special.

I had various setbacks in my career, including being told: “why don’t you just focus on building a family” at a time when it didn’t cross my mind that I would ever have children, and “you don’t have to come back to your work – I know that women don’t really want to work for a long time when first they get children” when I was pregnant with my first one. I knew I wanted to take care of my baby, but I also knew that career and babies would go together in my world. Being discredited, and not presented too many opportunities deflated my self-belief and self-confidence.

I had some good times – the first boss who believed in me was a Japanese gentleman, who was shortly before retirement. But afterwards, I had a setback because my husband was seen as being in the lead of the family’s career.

Six years ago, I was at a very low point. When my husband was transferred to Singapore, I was given a job, which I saw as being very much below my level. It was not sustainable, and I quit.

That was the turning point, and I am not looking back.

I started exploring what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. What are my strengths? What fulfils me? What’s my passion? I’ve definitely found it, and it has changed my life; it has changed me.

I’m a learning junkie. And I get a kick out of seeing others have that lightbulb moment; when they discovered their potential, or when they get excited about learning something new.

When and how did you set up your current business?

Because of my love of learning, I set up a training consultancy. We’re leading in the area of Authentic Leadership, and we do a lot of work in helping others to find their calling and sharpen the “soft” skills they need to be successful. With a network of highly capable people, we offer Diversity and Inclusion programmes, both to achieve gender and cultural balance at the workplace.

However, I spend as much time on a non-profit movement I initiated in Singapore end of 2017. It’s called KeyNote, and is already the world’s leading directory of women speakers. We are on a mission to bring diversity to stages around the world. There are too many conferences and meetings with a heavily male-dominated speaker line-up. We are a bunch of inspired women who want to change this.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?

I am a member of a Women’s Professional and Business organisation called PrimeTime. As a professional speaker, they suggested that I put together a list of names of women in the organisation who speak professionally, because they occasionally get speaking inquiries and would like to refer members.

Together with a friend, I googled and saw there was no such thing as a directory for women speakers in Asia, so I thought “Why keep this list internally? Why not make a directory?” Many that I contacted didn’t take me very seriously, until they saw the directory live:

It’s become my most important mission for me now. And I am happy to say that dozens of other women feel the same. We are over 40 volunteers who work hand in hand to bring gender balance on stage. We’ll continue until the day there is a good 50/50 balance – because there is no reason why one gender should speak up more.

What have been your experiences running this business?

Oh, it’s very rewarding. Almost everyone understands why we need diversity on stage. Men are supporting us, and even pledging to not speak if there are no women represented.

We focus on three areas: we connect speakers and event organisers, who need speakers – a big part of this is our online directory. We recognise women speakers – we make them more visible by joining forces online. Finally, develop more KeyNote speakers. We have an in-person training programme in Singapore, and we are bringing this online next year, for women all over the world to benefit.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

It’s so easy to give women that little nudge; that little boost of confidence that they have a voice. Just like I was discredited during my corporate career, and the longer I worked in corporate life, the less I saw myself as a leader: women often don’t see themselves as speakers. At KeyNote, we focus on unleashing the passion in people, which often drives them to speak up. We boost the self-confidence and give a few technical skills on top to polish them a bit, too.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Do you think you have faced specific challenges because of being a woman?

Today, I love being an entrepreneur and running a non-profit initiative. It means I can choose who I want to deal with. I get loads of support from peers, which gives me the courage to stand up and speak up about what needs to be said. I don’t really see obstacles any longer. I’m someone who sees opportunities rather than obstacles.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

Inspiration comes from living your values. Being true to what is fundamentally important to you, and then daring to live it, and communicate it. This will connect you with others, who have similar values and purpose in life. When you’re inspired, you’ll inspire others, and you will attract others that you’re inspired by!

What’s been your proudest moment so far?

Creating the world’s leading directory of women speakers, and knowing we are able to move the needle on diversity and gender balance is definitely all the way up there.

We know that by getting women to speak up, we will not only create role models for other women to be inspired by; we will also get people used to listening to women. Whether at work, in the board room, in academia, in government – and even in the home.

How would you define success?

Too many people strive for material goods. This only makes you enter a race for more and more. Success follows happiness – not the other way around! And success comes when you’re able to live your core values. Because your core values are what’s truly important to you – and that will make you happy.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?

Take time to consider what you truly want in life. You need to find the sweet spot between A) earning and B) adding value by C) focusing on your strengths. And in general – if you believe you’re nothing special, consider the option that your environment is discrediting you. We’re all special, and we all have immense power if we take time to reflect how best to realise ourselves.