On International Women’s day, we spoke to Kajsa Sjösvärd, Team Leader EUCP and Senior Analyst at the Swedish Defence University to hear her thoughts on why equity and diversity is so important in the sector.
What is your role, and what do you do on a daily basis?
I have been in the European Civil Protection Pool (CP Pool) of experts since 2011, and am trained to be a Team Leader or Deputy Team Leader.
I work with disaster management and total defence on a daily basis. This has been my main professional focus for more than 15 years, together with leadership development and group dynamics. I was the Head of Regional Disaster Management and Societal Security Department in Dalarna, Sweden during the forest fires 2018 and the COVID-19 crisis in 2020/2021. In 2021, I was also recruited as Team Leader for the EU-funded capacity building project in South Asia, which involved 10 UCPM member states. Since 2022, I have been working as a Senior Analyst at the Swedish Defence University. Our scope is leadership and decision making in stressful situations, improved disaster management, societal resilience, and EU–NATO cooperation.
What motivated you to get involved in civil protection/disaster management?
I´ve always been challenged by complex situations, problem solving, and group dynamics. Disaster management/civil protection within the EU includes all of that, built on a platform that creates cross-boundary cooperation and solidarity as its best. When working on a mission or EU exercise (which are realistic and challenging), we not only establish improved knowledge and experience of work-related relations, but also an understanding of the variety of different backgrounds and national contexts that we work in. This creates a solid foundation of community, which I found unique.
What are the issues that matter most to you? How do you get involved with these issues as part of your role?
I´m challenged by many different aspects of my work, all of which are important to me. If I had to choose one, I would say that collective performance is the most important to me. When working on a mission, it´s of no use to anyone if we act as solo performers. You have to live and act together, dealing with problems and efforts as a team. This includes coping with all the aspects that working together as a team brings, and is undoubtedly the best way to establish a well-functioning group that lasts until the last day of the mission.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity. Do you think the European Union civil protection/disaster management system can help achieve this? If yes, how?
Yes – the way I see it, it is equity with variety that we must support, specifically. It’s more about creating an atmosphere of inclusion for every competence, personality, experience and capacity that a person might bring into the civil protection environment. Gender is, of course, one obvious factor, but I think the main focus needs to be on the less fixed idea of what ‘mission style’ is adopted, as well as on collective team effort and performance.
How might it evolve to better achieve this?
The EU training which I have participated in, right from the very start of my journey and all the way to the Team Leader courses, have highlighted the importance of equity. I have always felt supported in my role as Team Leader or Deputy Team Leader. But of course, in stressful situations (as missions often are), we must sometimes remind ourselves about collective responsibility. As well as having the courage to resolve conflicting factors and find solutions to problems, the role of Team Leader is also to ensure that everybody is included.
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