Diversity Council Research: Danish Gender Equality Paradox in Leadership Roles

Despite men and women being equally ambitious, women face greater challenges on the way up the career ladder than men. Across hundreds of parameters this new study points out four main reasons for the lack of gender equality in leadership positions: 1) relatively traditional gender roles in the home 2) lack of support from management 3) female leaders being exposed to more micro-aggressions and 4) lack of inclusive leadership.

The studies and analyses on which the report is based have been carried out in collaboration with McKinsey & Company on behalf of The Diversity Council. It is based on Danish and global data, as well as a representative survey among medium and large Danish organisations and detailed analysis of the career of more than 30,000 university graduates. The study offers new perspectives on why gender equality in Danish management has not improved compared to other countries. It also shows what we can do about it based on the latest academic and business research.

Although 58% of Danes are of the opinion that gender equality in leadership has already been achieved, only 29% of leadership positions are filled by women – which is lower than the EU average of 35%. In Sweden, the opposite is true. Here, as many as 43% of the leadership positions are filled by women, even though only 38% of the population believe that there is equality between the sexes when it comes to filling leadership roles.

One explanation offered is that in Denmark the focus on improving gender equality at the top of society has not been sufficient due to the incorrectly perceived equality. Despite having the largest proportion of women in leadership, Sweden’s critical view of the achieved equality, means they have the most focus on doing something about it.

The Danish gender equality paradox

In the report, it is observed that the ‘inputs’ are very similar across genders in the Nordics: high participation in the labour market, relatively low wage gap, economic inclusion and access to education, as well as high proportion of educated women. Here, Denmark scores high together with the other Nordic countries. However, the ‘output’ – in the form of the proportion of women in leadership roles – is very different, with Denmark lagging with the lowest proportion of female leaders in the Nordic region and ranking lower compared to many European countries. And the gap is increasing. This is the Danish gender equality paradox. The study reveals the causes and barriers that may underlie this paradox, as well as the tools and solutions companies can specifically work with to get more women to the top of the business community in Denmark.

Across hundreds of parameters, the study points to 4 main reasons why women face greater challenges on the way up the career ladder than men. The reasons are 1) relatively traditional gender roles in the homes (39% of female managers are primarily responsible for household chores, against 12% of male managers), reinforced by parental leave policies viewing the mother as the primary caretaker 2) lack of career support from management (women are 30% less likely to be recommended for projects), 3) lack of inclusion in the workplace (50% of female leaders experience micro-aggressions compared to 20% of men), as well as 4) lack of corporate focus on diversity and inclusion (women are 30% less likely to be promoted, and at top management level only 50% of women experience the system as fair, compared to 71% of the men).

“Although we have one of the highest proportions of well-educated women and high female participation in the labour market in Denmark, the gap between us and the other Nordic countries is increasing when it comes to the proportion of female leaders. The research shows, that gender inequality is deeply rooted in the Danish culture, even though everyone thinks we have already reached equality. As an example, 39% of female leaders are solely responsible for household chores and are thus juggling two jobs, where one job is invisible to the employer. The report also shows that the female talent pipeline is broken. Out of 53% of graduates who are women, only 29% are later promoted to managers and 19% to executives. We need to strengthen the female talent pipeline from the bottom up,” says Tine Arentsen Willumsen, CEO of Above & Beyond Group.

What can be done about it?

“The most important conclusions from the report are that equality at the top of society does not happen by itself. While many of the right parameters are in place, we have not managed to achieve the same results in Denmark as our Nordic neighbours. The good news is that we can do something about it, and the study confirms which initiatives work,” says Tine Arentsen Willumsen, CEO of Above & Beyond Group, and continues:

“The report points very clearly to what companies can do. Mentoring and leadership programs as well as a more inclusive leadership culture are crucial drivers for the change companies want to achieve. But it takes time, patience and investment. 54% of women also point out that role models make a positive difference. These tools are not new, we have already developed and implemented them in close collaboration with the companies in the Diversity Council over the last 6 years with good results. But overall, as a nation we are significantly behind, and my hope is that the report will be a lever for all private and public organisations in Denmark. We need to do more, faster.”

AP Pension: We need concrete action – NOW

”It is disheartening to read, that Denmark is moving in the wrong direction compared to the other Nordic countries. At the same time, it is good that we now have documentation that we are not where we should be. Now there are no excuses to not launch concrete initiatives, which secure inclusion and the usage of highly educated talent. It all begins with leadership acknowledgement, and they need to have the courage to tackle the challenges and do something specific about it,” says Bo Normann Rasmussen, CEO of AP Pension, and continues:

”At AP Pension, we are convinced, that a lack of inclusion and diversity leads to the loss of talents, competitive advantage and money. Because of this we have within the last two years created gender balance at management level and we have also secured equal pay. This is a result of a few targeted initiatives, and I can only encourage others to get started. It is not enough to talk about it, we need concrete action – NOW.” 

Coloplast: It is critical for our business

”At Coloplast, we have addressed the need for more diversity and equality across all leadership layers. We have set specific targets for the distribution of men and women in leadership and introduced measures on gender, generation, and nationality to foster more diversity in our teams. All our leaders are committed to driving this agenda forward, and we keep track on the progress. We have come a long way, but just like many other companies we are facing some challenges in reaching our goals,” says Kristian Villumsen, CEO of Coloplast, and continues: “This study clearly shows that we need to continue our efforts, and I am personally committed in the work. It is critical for our business.”

“It is one of the most detailed Nordic research studies in its field ever made in Denmark, based on significant nationwide and global statistical data, survey analyses of more than 4,500 respondents, career progression analyses of more than 30,000 graduate students in Denmark, and the results speak for themselves. This field is under-prioritized and calls for investment and even greater strategic focus from management. The report gives business leaders unique insights into what is holding us back in Denmark, how important it is to solve the challenges, and what it takes to maintain and strengthen the female talent pipeline as everyone today competes in a global labour market,” says Tine Arentsen Willumsen, CEO of Above & Beyond Group.

CEO Pledge: The ABCs of Diversity & Inclusion

The Diversity Council, currently made up of 19 Nordic and international companies, met on the morning of the 19th of June at KPMG for their first CEO Committee of 2020. In the presence of Minister for Equal Opportunities, Mogens Jensen, all CEOs signed a CEO Pledge outlining their commitment to diversity and inclusion through three key leverage points. This is the first time that all partners of The Diversity Council have jointly made such a public pledge, with the intention of turning the D&I conversation into action.

The joint CEO Pledge is titled ‘The ABCs of Diversity and Inclusion’ with the ABC representing:

D&I in the ‘New Normal’
Amidst the ‘new normal’ of 2020, it is essential to reassess the qualities and competencies, that the leading business community want to represent going forward. Earlier this year, it was announced that Denmark has slipped to 14th place in the ranking of the ‘World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020’. This overall ranking is disappointing, when put in contrast with the other Scandinavian countries, but the position is even more serious, when a spotlight is put on the ranking of women in leadership, where Denmark as a country is ranked 102nd. Hence achieving real progress and implementing inclusive business practices are more important than ever.

Support from the Minister for Equal Opportunties
Minister for Food, Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation, Mogens Jensen, was present at the signing of the CEO Pledge and stated: “I am delighted, that 19 CEOs today are committing their companies to working for greater diversity in leadership and more inclusive workplaces. Together with the Minister of Business, I am currently discussing how the government can contribute to strengthening efforts to ensure, that more women get a seat at the table, where key decisions are made. For we can see, that equality will not come by itself.”

A Lever for Sustainability
The Founder of The Diversity Council stated: “In the spirit of UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 17 – ‘Partnerships for the Goals’, the Diversity Council partner companies will work together to further the achievement UN SDG 5 – ‘Gender Equality’ and SDG 10 – ‘Reduced Inequalities’. To turn the conversation here in Denmark into action, our Diversity Council has identified: ‘The ABCs of Diversity & Inclusion’. The CEO Pledge is backed up by extensive research from amongst others, McKinsey & Co”, says Tine Arentsen Willumsen, CEO of Above & Beyond Group.

Committing to Real Change
The members of The Diversity Council are committed to doing the ongoing long-term work required to implement real change and transformation to ensure the progress of gender parity in the corporate world and beyond. By acting together through this pledge, The Diversity Council aims to drive and accelerate progress towards balanced leadership, inclusive workplaces and equal opportunities for all talents.

30 participants, 9 countries, 5 companies – Fast-Track Program June 2019

Fast-Track Program for Emerging Female Managers

”The happiest people discover their own nature and match their life to it” – Ray Dalio

On Day One of the Fast-Track program, Professor Kriti Jain shared this statement from billionaire investor and philanthropist, Ray Dalio. By rooting the program firmly in identity, purpose and vision, participants were invited to ‘own their journey’. It meant that all the case studies explored, experts listened to, and tasks attempted, were considered in light of this initial task: of building a ‘life design canvas’ where personal purpose and mission underpinned their professional roles.

What followed was a five day learning experience in central Copenhagen, where participants were taught by a range of leading professors and experts, each with their own approach, to offer a new and holistic approach to leadership development. From VR explorations, to case studies from Zara and Nokia, the class balanced business theory with hands-on learning.

At the end of the week, participants were invited to reconsider their mission and purpose, in light of the strategic lessons learnt, and create a next step plan, to step into the roles they felt best matched their core competencies and values.

Over the next three months, they have been matched with mentors to monitor this extended learning journey, as they apply the tools acquired in their workplaces.

About the Program

The program has been created by Above & Beyond Group, in partnership with Headspring, by Financial Times & IE Business School, and has reimagined traditional education with a clear focus on learning by doing, and self-exploration.

Orchestrated by Program Director, Morven McLean, the participants left the program with new tools for implementing purpose and vision, with organizational, team, and customer-orientated strategic leadership from various international professors and a panel of experts from Tesla, Nokia, Vestas and Radiometer.

Alongside key learnings, the participants also bonded as a class – with spontaneous swimming trips, dinner and networking taking place throughout the week.

Participate in the Next Program?

 If you are interested in participating in the next Nordic Fast-Track course in November 2019, please visit: https://www.thediversitycouncil.com/fast-track-program/

The Global Context of Leadership

CEO Panel Discussion: The Global Context of Leadership

Three top CEOs from The Diversity Council, Martin Andre Dittmer, CEO and Managing Partner at Gorrissen Federspiel; Marianne Dahl, CEO at Microsoft and Morten Hübbe, CEO at Tryg, participated in a panel to discuss being ‘drivers of change’ at the Advanced Leadership Program for Women 2019.

The first day of the Advanced Leadership Program for Women provided a deep-dive on ‘21st Century Leadership’ by business thought-leader and author, Peter Fisk.  As well as speaking about the new powers and disruptive technologies that are transforming the world of work, Fisk delivered an accelerated run-down the world’s 100 most inspiring companies. After a full day of studying best practise cases in the abstract, the top female talents on the program were joined by Pilita Clark, an Associate Editor at the Financial Times, who facilitated a panel with three CEOs who implement the strategic leadership approaches that had been discussed during the day. These top leaders were: Martin Andre Dittmer, CEO and Managing Partner at Gorrissen Federspiel; Marianne Dahl, CEO at Microsoft and Morten Hübbe, CEO at Tryg.

As CEOs of some of Denmark’s largest publicly-held companies, dependant on healthy profit margins and KPIs, the CEOs all noted the importance of adopting a growth mindset in this time of technology-driven transformation, and the threat of insurgent companies, whose private status means they have more freedom to disrupt and innovate.  

One such company is Lemonade, a tech firm transforming the insurance landscape. Morten Hübbe observed that their staff-less model means they can work much faster and much cheaper, and giants of the industry, such as Tryg, cannot get complacent about the competition they pose.

One initiative that has recently been implemented at Tryg to encourage innovative thinking is inviting 200 people and 35 start-ups to share their work space. This unconventional approach has empowered the company to disrupt itself from within and, as a result, Tryg is now the largest player in insuring in the sharing economy in Denmark. While high risk is usually incompatible with insurance, it is vital in order to move faster than the accelerating competitors.

Refusing to get complacent is a sentiment shared by Microsoft CEO, Marianne Dahl, who recounted a 2007 Forbes front cover titled: ‘Nokia One Billion Customers: Can anyone catch the cell phone king?’ Within just eight years, however, the company was bought and essentially shut down by Microsoft. Even industry giants can be swallowed, and it is this threat that drives Dahl to keep developing. In technology, the past is the worst indicator of the future and with this in mind, Dahl plans to double their size in four years and transform two thirds of the revenue stream.

In the legal sector, legacy is key, and can seem to impede any rapid progress. Martin Andre Dittmer observed that in Gorrissen Federspiel, they celebrate the fact that they stand on 150 years of history, but for a human industry, AI represents a sizeable threat. Dittmer shared with the panel various initiatives Gorrissen Federspiel has introduced to counteract this, including a digitalisation committee, start-up competition for free legal help called ‘Sunburst’, renting of legal services in the gig economy and also a specific course on product development for managers.

Adapting to the future workplace is not limited to strategic developments; appealing to millennials will also demand that companies embrace a more sustainable and flexible model. In the new corporate landscape, the war for talents is almost as fierce as the war for customers. Morten Hübbe observes that, “Millennials motivated by purpose, they want to feel in tune with the leader’s views”. Rather than big corporates or big pay checks, they want to work somewhere worthwhile.

Finally, the conversation turned to women in leadership, and specifically what was needed to get more women in management. This topic is at the heart of the Advanced Leadership Program for Women, which has been designed to strengthen the talent pipeline and further develop the capabilities of top female talents over the 4 modules of the course.

Marianne Dahl noted that while global trends can be encouraging, in Denmark, the representation of women in boards and CEOs dropped 6.6% in 2018. Relative to its Nordic neighbours, Denmark’s position is only getting worse. This talent drain occurs at two key moments: around the time of having a second child and in the early forties, when female leaders begin to feel like outsiders, given their limited numbers at the top: not one of the executive boys’ club, but alienated from female co-workers too.

Yet, even if the numbers are moving in the wrong direction, the need for more women in leadership is only increasing. As technology replaces mundane tasks, businesses are becoming more dependent on the human skills of their employees: their intuition, imagination and innovation.

Morten Hübbe observed that this offers a unique opportunity to answer the more holistic leadership challenge. Broadly, women are better at identifying the ‘why’, while men are more data driven. In Tryg, they are encouraging rotation schemes to build broader leadership profiles amongst their top talents while also creating a flexible work culture that works with family.

When approaching the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, new problems require new models for new solutions. This proactive approach is also applicable when it comes to talent development – in a world where there are more CEOs called John than women, it is time to disrupt outdated business practises and embrace the diversity of thought and approach that will ensure businesses thrive.

To learn more about The Advanced Leadership Program, visit: www.thediversitycouncil.com

HR Workshop - March 2019 at Gorrissen Federspiel

HR Workshop – March 2019 at Gorrissen Federspiel

On the 1st of March, our Diversity Council HR workshop was hosted at Gorrissen Federspiel, where the theme was ’Strengthening the Female Talent Pipeline: Attracting And Recruiting Diverse Talents’. The discussion centred on four keys areas that impact recruitment: Attracting Generation Z and Y, Social Media, Optics and Wording in Job Adverts and Headhunting. 

We were delighted to welcome Vestas to the alliance for their first meeting, where they join Tryg, FT | IE Corporate learning Alliance, The Central Bank of Denmark, Radiometer, PwC, Maersk, Microsoft, McKinsey & Co, Lederne, Gorrissen Federspiel, The Foreign Ministry, The Danish Chamber of Commerce and Coloplast in The Diversity Council.

To further examine the tool needs to fully engage Generation Z and Y, Cultural Sociologist, Emilia Van Hauen, presented on the ontological insecurity of the future generations, who face immense pressure to be: productive, visible, liked and developing. With concrete examples and case studies, she concluded that the impetus is on those who are currently in the workforce to turn the generation gap into a generation bridge.

In terms of the way social media can be used to attract female talent, insights were provided by Astrid Haug, Digital Transformation and Social Media expert. Women are more active on social media than men – and engage more – this is an opportunity to target women in a different way. Haug presented several tools to implement a social media strategy through employee advocacy and the importance of ‘showing not telling’.

In order to understand what must be demanded of headhunters to ensure diverse slates during recruitment, Kim Arlund Nørgaard and Christian Skaaning, partners at Stanton Chase, shared their first-hand experiences in ensuring HR get the agile and adaptable talents needed in the workplace of the future. They drew attention to the fact that hiring processes should put less focus on past performance and more on future potential.

Representing Diversity Council founding partner company, Coloplast, Stine Fehmerling, Senior Manager Global Inclusion & Diversity, spoke about the steps currently being made by Coloplast to ensure inclusive optics and wording in their job adverts, including recent photoshoots, updated policies and the importance of representing the diversity of employees in job adverts.

It was a stimulating and varied discussion, with the cross-industry insights producing key recommendations in each of the four areas to strengthen the talent pipeline and ensure the engagement of the full talent pool.

How The Diversity Council Works Towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, as a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity, for people and the planet. Imperative to the agenda’s success are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that call upon all nations – developed and developing – to join its global partnership.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals came into effect in 2016, drafted by world leaders at a historic UN summit. The Goals apply universally and mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

Our initiatives at The Diversity Council work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Goal 5. Gender Equality
  • Goal 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • Goal 17. Partnerships

Our work is directly relevant to goals 5, 10 and 17 as we utilise a strategic public and private sector alliance to strive towards gender parity in the corporate sphere and beyond.


Goal 5. Gender Equality

In 2016, HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark raised the flag for Sustainable Development Goal Number 5 in Copenhagen. The goal aims to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere, including eliminating violence, ensuring equal leadership opportunities, guaranteeing equal rights, strengthening legislation and valuing unpaid domestic work.

Although steps have been made since 2016, there is still a long way to go. Globally, the percentage of women in single or lower houses of national parliament has increased from 19 per cent in 2010 to around 23 per cent in 2018. Though this marks a movement in the right direction, the pace of change is just not fast enough. The Diversity Council aims to be a diversity accelerator, paving the way for a more balanced talent pipeline and inclusive leadership in both private and public sectors.

Read more: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5


Goal 10. Reduced Inequalities

Sustainable Development Goal Number 10 is characterized by the need to empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status. This can be achieved by eliminating discriminatory policies, adopting inclusive policies and ensuring balanced representation.

Inclusive Leadership is at the core of The Diversity Council’s ethos. It is essential for companies to champion this agenda by eliminating any discriminatory behaviours in recruiting, promotion or advancement. Through the HR workshops and A&B Academy we are working against unconscious bias and showcasing how the corporate sphere can become change-makers and diversity champions.

Read more: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg10


Goal 17. Partnerships

Sustainable Development Goal Number 17 seeks to strengthen global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda, bringing together national governments, the international community, civil society, the private sector and other actors.

 The Diversity Council has been built on the understanding that a corporate alliance increases capacity, voice and impact for all partners involved. By working across industries, we find patterns and best-practise cases that can strengthen partner companies individually, while also promoting a wider inclusive corporate culture across companies.

Read more: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg17

CEO Committee - October 2018

CEO Committee – October 2018 at The Central Bank of Denmark

On the 3rd of October, our Diversity Council CEO Committee meeting was kindly co-hosted by Lars Rohde, CEO of The Central Bank of Denmark. The discussion centred on ‘The Future Workplace’, both in terms of ensuring diverse leadership, and the challenges and advantages that technology and AI can bring for an inclusive culture. We were delighted to welcome FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance and The Central Bank of Denmark to the alliance for their first meeting, where they join Tryg, Radiometer, PwC, Maersk, Microsoft, McKinsey & Co, Lederne, Gorrissen Federspiel, The Foreign Ministry, The Danish Chamber of Commerce and Coloplast in The Scandinavian Diversity Council.

With digitalisation and automation governing discussion about the future workplace, the dependence on STEM skills will only increase, and yet women remain distinctly underrepresented in this sector. In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women but today it’s only 24%, and women currently only hold 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley. We discussed further opportunities to strengthen the talent pipeline, and introduced the new Advanced Leadership Program, which will accelerate the development of female talents worldwide through the reach of FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance, whose CEO, Gustaf Nordbäck, flew in from London to attend the meeting.

Through our #LeadtheFuture campaign, the Diversity Council partner companies have also been raising the profile of their current female leaders to highlight STEM role models for the next generation of female talents. Click here for more information.

To further examine this leadership deficit, Lisbeth Møller, Associate at McKinsey & Co, presented the McKinsey & Co. and Innovation Fund Report ‘Bridging the Talent Gap in Denmark’, which was released earlier this week. Møller shared their extensive findings regarding female representation in STEM and the 4 key moments in a woman’s career: inspiring, attracting, retaining and advancing. Click here to read the report.

In terms of the opportunities of AI, insights were provided by Alice Fishburn, senior Financial Times journalist. Fishburn not only shared examples of initiatives currently underway at the London-based newspaper to encourage more female writers, but also outlined cases in which AI could be utilised to prompt a more inclusive digital interface.

AI expert and co-founder of Droids Agency, Tim Daniel Hansen spoke about bias and how algorithms will shape the future workplace. Hansen showcased the danger of allowing algorithms to reinforce our interest, and close opportunities for diversity, especially in the recruitment process.

It was a stimulating and varied discussion, with the cross-industry insights emphasising the necessity of preparing for the digital future, where diversity positively correlates with innovation.


Partnership to Accelerate Women Leadership Development

Partnership to Accelerate Women Leadership Development

We are delighted to announce that The Above & Beyond Group has formed an international learning partnership with Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance, a leading provider of customised executive development programmes for corporates. The corporate learning alliance will facilitate and run the leadership programs of our diversity accelerator, The Diversity Council.

The unique joint venture between, Financial Times and IE Business School offers a completely new and humanistic approach to executive development. Practitioners, business school experts, a network of 500+ educators and some of the world’s most experienced journalists help make each module of each program remarkable.

Through this unique combination, Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance is the perfect global partner to deliver The Diversity Council’s master programs. The DC Advanced Leadership Program is customized and challenges the current mindsets and fosters debates that help the participating female talents to push boundaries, be innovative and lead the future of their industries.

The objective is to empower female talents worldwide by developing them as leaders as well as people and amplifying their strengths to consistently operate to their highest potential.

Tine Arentsen Willumsen notes that, ‘As we expand The Diversity Council internationally, we are very excited to fuel this new phase in partnership with Financial Times | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance. The alliance brings a unique ecosystem of global professors, thought-leaders and top journalists to our DC Advanced Leadership Program for Women. Together we are set to strengthen the female leadership pipeline throughout the corporate world.’

Together with FT|IE Corporate Learning Alliance, we look forward to furthering our work to address the barriers that obstruct the advancement of more women into top management.