On the occasion of International Women’s Day, ISO takes the opportunity to recognize our most senior female figure and highly successful international business leader in her own right. We are excited to share with you this interview with the ISO President-elect, Ulrika Francke.
Ulrika will take up the position of ISO President in January 2022 at the completion of the term of current President Eddy Njoroge, and serve as President-elect throughout 2021, preparing for her latest global role.
With her, she brings a wealth of leadership and management experience, including that of standardization. She has a proven track record of success in leading the development and execution of corporate visions, strategies and goals, and has also served in a number of senior executive positions, both as CEO and as Chair and member of a multitude of Boards.
In an exclusive interview, Ms Francke talks through the importance of coming to ISO at a time in history of unprecedented challenges and calls on the principles of resilience, rebuilding and renewal of trust to shape our world’s future. She also emphasizes the need for new directions in line with the ISO Strategy 2030.
Ms Francke shares her perspective on the growing importance of ISO in an increasingly interconnected world, highlighting International Standards as strategic and the single most important commodity in the 21st century.
Without standards to support our society, the world the way we know it would no longer exist.
First off, congratulations on your appointment as ISO President-elect. What inspired you to put forward your candidature for ISO President? And why now?
I am very grateful to have been appointed as the next ISO President to serve this great organization. Standards have been my daily bread and butter ever since I began my career. More recently, I left my position as CEO of a real-estate consultancy to become more involved in the Swedish Institute for Standards (SIS) and standardization, and it was my colleagues at SIS who encouraged me to take the next leap. I’m now looking forward to taking up the position as President of ISO.
The world stands together in solving some of the greatest challenges that our planet has ever faced. Those challenges are defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to put the world on a path of peace, prosperity and equal opportunity for all. ISO standards are an active contributor to the SDGs. In fact, in some areas, their role is fundamental in making these goals a reality. We especially need to contribute to supporting developing countries so that we can achieve economic growth in a sustainable way.
I look forward to being a part of that journey and participating in the continued development of ISO standards to ensure they meet the future needs of society. With interoperability and interdependency growing rapidly across the globe, there is a strong need for commonality in standards at all levels.
You bring a wealth of experience to the role. What is the single most important accomplishment that has prepared you for this?
With a background in real estate and the building sector, I am not new to standardization and have seen the great benefits it can bring. I have also seen how much can be gained from applying standards like the ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 series. Over the years, I have seen first-hand that ISO adopters have higher rates of corporate survival, sales, employment growth and wage increases, than non-adopters. The transparency that results from good management practices provides value in three ways. It allows customers to see what is happening so they have the confidence to make purchasing decisions, it allows organizations to confirm that what they intend to do is being done, and it allows stakeholders to know what is expected of them and what they need to do.
We need to understand and appreciate the value of International Standards not only for the building sector, which I know inside out, but also for the global economy as a whole. Without standards to support our society, the world the way we know it would no longer exist. Among so many other things, standards are a passport to trade, enabling better business practice while affording consumer protection.
Regarding my new role as ISO President, some of the most valuable insights I can bring will be those gained as Chair of different Boards and organizations. They have taught me the strategic value of standards and the importance of reaching a common ground. As I have become immersed in standards management, I have broadened my awareness of how a national standards body works and how it collaborates with its peers at the international, European and national level. With over 35 years of professional experience, I hope to use this knowledge to its full potential in my new role.
How will you use your time as President-elect to prepare for your role as President? What are you most looking forward to?
First off, my term as President-elect will be one of learning. I hope to get a better sense of ISO and the needs and expectations of our members. To do so, I will work closely with the current ISO President, Eddy Njoroge, and use every opportunity to learn and understand the ins and outs of the organization.
As we embark on the ISO Strategy 2030, I am keen to help support its progress and contribute to ensuring its success. Global strategies, when leveraged in a positive way, have the potential to bring stability amid so much uncertainty, and ISO has a part to play in making this possible.
The minimal viable business model brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that many organizations have had to employ, has also provided the opportunity to rethink the way we live and work. Keeping things as flexible and efficient as possible is key. Operating under these extraordinary global circumstances won’t be easy, but organizations must adapt and establish a new framework in which they can function, analyse and react to the unknown.
With the world still grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, how can ISO standards bring stability to these uncertain times?
As a leader, you have to ask yourself: “In a moment that is extraordinary, how can your response as an organization also be extraordinary?” ISO has been able to provide free of charge a number of standards for medical equipment and devices, including ventilators and respiratory equipment, protective clothing, hand cleaners and disinfectants, as well as for business continuity management, security and resilience. This has been tremendously helpful in hospitals and to assist manufacturers in ramping up production of essential medical equipment and materials.
In an increasingly integrated world, standards are especially useful in periods of crisis. Having products and processes that you can rely on is a big asset. At times like these, standards have a profoundly stabilizing role in helping organizations manage their continuity management process and getting better prepared for future unforeseen events.
The pandemic has been a useful learning curve for ISO. I think the big lesson for everybody in the ISO system has been the discovery that we can work efficiently in the digital world, using videoconferencing and virtual technology, and still develop high-quality standards. Going forward, we must continue to capitalize on the strengths of the virtual working environment, which brings on board greater numbers of experts and expertise. This has opened many doors to the way we work, reducing the need to travel and meet face-to-face. Standards development is undergoing a transformation, and it’s time that we step up and meet the needs of a more interconnected world. Our capacity to produce timely, relevant, international standards on a global scale will depend on it.
What are your expectations for the ISO Gender Action Plan 2019-2021?
My hope is to see more women involved in standardization and taking a leading role in ISO.
The work initiated by ISO on gender equality is important not only for us as an organization but for all users of standards. Mainstreaming a gender perspective in standardization will help ensure our work remains attractive to women and men alike. That’s why it’s important that gender is taken into consideration when collecting data, choosing visuals and examples and developing test methods that work for both sexes, leading to more inclusive, gender-responsive standards.
The ISO Gender Action Plan should help to bring new talent to standardization and expand the diversity of professionals involved in our activities. The Plan includes commitments to determine the male-to-female ratio in technical committees and identify sectors in which women are underrepresented.
Standards development is still a male-dominated area, but things are gradually changing and should evolve if we promote diversity in our technical committees. Diversity is always enriching. Standardization means integrating different points of view into a single deliverable. Therefore, the more diverse the input, the better the standard. When developing and revising standards, it is important to have representation from a diverse group of stakeholders and experts, and this includes women.
To carry the momentum forward, we will continue to attract the world’s leading experts in all fields of standardization and, to do so, we must make sure that no one, male or female, feels excluded. This will enhance the quality of the final standards by making them more relevant to a wider audience. In years to come, my hope is to see more women involved in standardization and taking a leading role in ISO. Because, ultimately, our goal is to produce standards that are suitable for all, both in how they are written and how they are used. It’s a win-win for all.
What will success look like for you, as President of ISO?
Predicting success in an unpredictable world is an almost impossible feat! Uncertainty persists today along several dimensions. Thankfully, the ISO Strategy 2030 will keep us on a solid track to build confidence and tackle global challenges by producing the standards that the world desperately needs.
In today’s challenging global context, we must rethink our priorities. Over the next decade, we will be redirecting our standardization efforts to areas where standards can have the most impact and relevance – the economy, technology, society and the environment.
My greatest aspiration is to increase ISO’s visibility as a solutions provider in a global context. We must be willing to ask tough questions and tackle some of the tough issues that need to be addressed. With only a decade to go, the race is on to meet the SDGs by 2030. While not a done deal, our strength as an international community, which we have witnessed during the pandemic, will help us rise above any unforeseen challenges. ISO’s vision of “making lives easier, safer and better” by 2030 is not only wishful thinking, it’s a necessity. Our future depends on it.