Anita Krohn Traaseth, who runs Norway’s state bank for enterprise, on what America can learn from Scandinavia and the importance of involving your family in work
Anita Krohn Traaseth doesn’t think that all men are pigs.
That’s a common misperception after she released “Good Enough For the Bastards,” a 2014 memoir and quasi-business guide for women that became a bestseller in her native Norway. But the phrase actually originates with her father, who liked to say “that’s good enough for the bastards” after completing an errand to the benefit of the children he raised.
“So many people think that men are the bastards, but when my father said that, he was giving me the security of not having to strive for perfection,” Krohn Traaseth tells Moneyish. “He meant that not everything had to be completely perfect before it is enough and I thank him everyday for that.”
Krohn Traaseth has built an entire career out of being just good enough. Now 46, she’s the chief executive of Innovation Norway, a state development bank with the mandate of helping Donald Trump’s favorite small-but-rich country develop enterprise. An outspoken feminist and former top exec at HP, she’s been compared to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose “Lean In” has become the manifesto of the corporate feminist movement.
But while Sandberg grew up in a privileged family and attained two Harvard degrees, Krohn Traaseth had a decidedly middle class upbringing. She was an average student and her mother, who suffered from manic depression, died while Krohn Traaseth was a child. When she applied for a job at IBM out of college, the only job requirement she met on the checklist was having a “positive attitude in life.”
“That was the only thing I saw,” she says. Nonetheless, she managed to charm the recruiters with a mocked up newsletter celebrating her being hired for the gig (“fake news,” she now jokes) and began a career that has saw her rise to the top.
Krohn Traaseth is in New York for an conference she’s hosting on International Women’s Day this Thursday about strengthening female tech entrepreneurs. But she’s not just here to dispense advice. Though Norway ranks highly on gender equality and quality of life tables, she worries that women in her ostensibly progressive country still have a long way to go.
“We’ve come a long way, but in a country where there is free healthcare, education and possibilities wherever, there are still so few female CEOs,” she says, noting that under 8% of Norwegian corporate heads are women. “Still, many Norwegian women choose the old way. We want more women to start their companies and be investors, and invest again in more women.”
She attributes this to both slow-changing culture and the unique burdens women have to deal with. “You have to be the CEO at work and then the CEO at home. That’s not going to work for anyone,” says Krohn Traaseth, who has three daughters. “Then you’re the CEO among friends. You host wine clubs, need to look good and have all these pressures of being perfect. It’s not a healthy development.”
Like Sandberg, Krohn Traaseth has benefitted from being materially well-off and having a supportive husband. When she was offered the Innovation Norway post, she sat down her entire family and asked them for permission to take on the travel-heavy job and not do household chores for a year. Her husband and children agreed to fill in. “He’s been in this marriage thinking that we’re a team,” she says. “The children have a father and he’s more than capable of taking care of them.”
That said, she’s aware that this luxury is not one that many other women have. “I’m very careful of giving women advice. You have to make your own experiences which reflect who you are and what you want to do in life,” Krohn Traaseth says.
Still, she thinks most women would possibly do better if they stuck their neck out and take a chance sometimes. “That’s my father’s ‘Good Enough for the Bastards.’ Maybe I’m not all that, but I’m something,” she says. “And that is the first rule: You’ve got to try. The only response you can get is no. But who knows? You might get it. And I got it.”
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