From IEC Young Professional to President of the IEC National Committee of Sweden

An interview with Stina Wallström

Last April, Stina Wallström was elected President of Svensk Elstandard (SEK), the IEC National Committee of Sweden. In this position, Wallström is responsible for guiding the national committee and leading its involvement in international fora.

Standardization has been a leitmotiv throughout Wallström’s career. She first realized the importance of standards when completing her graduate studies in chemical engineering and has been engaged in standardization work ever since. Her initial foray into the IEC began with her participation in the Young Professional Programme (YPP) in 2013.

In an interview with e-tech, Wallström tells us more about her current work in standardization and encourages the next generation of leaders to become involved.

Stina Wallström
Stina Wallström is Director for regulatory affairs at IKEA Range and Supply and President of Svensk Elstandard (SEK)

Tell us about your background

I graduated with a PhD in polymer technology from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) with a thesis entitled Biofilms on silicone rubber materials for outdoor high voltage insulation. The work was financed by, and undertaken in close cooperation with, ABB Corporate Research.

After my dissertation, I started working as a project leader at a sister organisation to SEK, the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS), with the responsibility of leading ISO projects for the Swedish secretariat.

I was then recruited by the Swedish Engineering Industries as Deputy Director for international trade and standardization. In this position, I was responsible for promoting the views of over 4 000 Swedish engineering companies on issues related to trade agreements as well as legislation about standardization, product safety and market surveillance. I also represented the European Technology Industry (Orgalime) in several groups and committees, including the CEN Technical Board.

Now, I work as Director for regulatory affairs at IKEA Range and Supply, the part of IKEA responsible for designing, producing and distributing all products sold globally. For a global company like IKEA, standards are of uttermost importance and discussions of standards and standardization are an integral part of my daily work.

I am very proud of being elected President of SEK.

How did your studies in chemical engineering lead you to your current role in standardization?

I first came into contact with standards when developing new test methods within the framework of my PhD studies. I soon discovered how useful state-of-the-art standards could be as a solid ground on which new innovations could be built. As you can see from my background, standardization has since been a ‘red thread’ throughout my career.

Tell us more about your role at the SEK

As President of SEK I manage and provide leadership to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). I am accountable to the Board and act as liaison between the Board and the management of the company, through the CEO.

How did the Young Professionals Programme (YPP) boost your involvement in standardization work at the international level?

Aside from being a wonderful experience where new friendships and contacts were formed with other YPs from all over the world, I learned a lot about the IEC. This information is of great importance to me in my role as SEK chair.

Why would you encourage potential YPs to participate in the programme?

When I participated in the programme, my already high expectations were surpassed. The programme is well thought out and wide-ranging. When you complete the programme, you have, as expected, a firm knowledge about the world and functioning of the IEC. But over and above that, you also get ample opportunities to form a network of peers from all over the world to whom you can turn to for advice and new business opportunities. The IEC also makes sure that you get to meet and interact with experienced and influential experts within the IEC system to further broaden your professional network.

What recommendations would you give to current YPs to encourage their involvement in standardization work?

In a world where protectionism and nationalism are on the rise, standardization, with its values of openness and consensus, is a beacon of light. It is easier than you may think to have a global influence via the standardization community. Through strategic participation in standardization work, you can foster global harmonization and create new business opportunities while meeting and exchanging experiences with some of the best experts in the world within your field.

What are some of the big challenges, if any, currently facing standards developing organizations (SDOs)?

Nationalism and protectionism are a threat to the world as well as to the SDOs. We do see worrying tendencies to develop national standards rather than turning to IEC and other global standards organisations.

The short-sighted focus on profitability adopted by many modern businesses may also be a threat. Standards, although strategically highly important, rarely give profit in time for the next quarterly report. We need to convince companies to keep investing in standardization, providing the money and expertise needed to ensure market relevant and scientifically sound standards.

The rapid digital development is also a challenge, but not a threat. I am sure we will be able to use it to our advantage and find new and innovative ways to deliver our standards with the speed and accessibility modern engineers expect.  

How are IEC Standards applied in your work at IKEA (i.e. automation, augmented reality applications, etc)?

Of course we always look to International Standards when we develop new and cool technology solutions such as the innovative system for smart lighting that recently hit our stores. However, let’s not forget the “old and boring” Standards. The importance of global harmonization of Standards, for example electrical safety and consumer protection, cannot be underestimated for a company like IKEA. 

What are some of the challenges - if any - that you have faced as a woman in technology? How would you encourage young female leaders in technology?

Although I am very aware that gender equality is far from a reality in this day and age, I personally have experienced very few problems. I attribute this to the supportive managers, male and female, that I have had the privilege to work for during my career.

My advice to young female leaders in technology would be to surround yourself with people that encourage and inspire you. That will give you the confidence you need to tackle the few remaining dinosaurs that still haven’t understood that your gender does not define your skills.