Finland, along with other Nordic nations, is often recognized for providing generous benefits for women in the workplace.
So it’s not surprising that an energetic, career-minded group of Helsinki women chartered Mothers in Business Toastmasters several years ago. The club is affiliated with Mothers in Business,
a national Finnish organization committed to advancing the professional and personal success of women.
The club, one of five in Helsinki, the nation’s capital, meets
two evenings a month and is structured like clubs all over the world—with one possible exception. To accommodate the special needs of its members, MiB allows them to bring their children to meetings. This unconventional arrangement makes it easy for women to participate without worrying about childcare or canceling if childcare arrangements fall through.
As a country, Finland has a family-friendly culture, which dovetails with the club’s speaking and leadership development goals, says Anna Saura, a communication professional and mother of two. A Toastmasters hallmark—supportive peers—is especially valuable to MiB members, she adds.
“Making the time to develop new capabilities, stay current professionally and practice speaking skills are important to all of us,” Saura says. “It’s not always easy for women with small children to enjoy educational pursuits like Toastmasters. Yet in our club, everyone understands the demands of family and a career. We root for each other to maximize all our talents and life goals.”
Initially, the women were uncertain about the Toastmasters club model, notes Emma Tullila, an entrepreneur, mother of a 5-year-old and the mastermind behind MiB.
“I had heard about Toastmasters but found it a bit intimidating at first,” she says. “Once I attended a few club meetings, I realized the power of the concept and how well it fits the needs of mothers who are in, or are returning to, the workforce.” Finnish women have the option of a three-year maternity leave. Many take less time, but whatever their choice, an opportunity like MiB allows women to stay current with their professional skills and connections.
“Sometimes professional women have been reluctant to let their personalities show through in business interactions,” Saura notes. “They may think they have to be extra serious to be taken seriously. In Toastmasters, we learned to relax and be ourselves.”
MiB members have learned to apply Toastmasters training to a variety of professional pursuits. “One member recently defended her doctoral thesis and used Toastmasters meetings to practice talking in front of the audience,” Saura says.
She adds, “I have gained loads of confidence in my job, training corporate executives to become better communicators. If you train others, you must also train yourself! For me, Toastmasters has sparked a greater interest in public speaking. I’m even studying neuropsychology in my free time to understand different communications styles.”
Club members say having children at meetings has helped speakers practice managing unplanned distractions. “Children aren’t at every meeting, but if they’re here, we’re sometimes interrupted by some tears or little feet running around, but we’re so used to it we barely notice,” Saura says. “I myself have given several speeches with my two small kids attending. It’s great practice!”
“However, it’s important to have a variety of snacks available,” she adds with a laugh.
Another benefit of having children at club meetings? They just might be Toastmasters in the making. “Who knows, we might have a whole generation of Toastmaster babies and toddlers growing up in the most northern corner of Europe,” notes Saura. “Once they learn to speak, they will do it with precision, energy and, of course, keep to the specified time limit.”
Stephanie Darling is associate editor of the Toastmasters magazine.