Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way

Nanna-Louise Wildfang Linde, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft, Denmark

30 Sep 2016 11:56 | Deleted user

1.      In 2012, You co-wrote a book entitled « Myter om magten », which could be translated as “Myths about power”. What is the title/book referring to precisely? Could you please explain in a few words what the book is about?

The title is referring to the many myths that exists about why we don’t have more women on top leadership positions. For example, “they don’t want leadership positions”, “they don’t have the courage”, “they are not skilled or able to hold such positions” etc. In the book we analyzed these myths and found out that none of them are true.

But first let me give you a bit of background. Along with the other co-authors of “Myter om magten”, we found out, that Denmark was one of the European countries with the fewest women in top leadership positions! This surprised us, because Denmark is historically one of the leading country in Europe in gender equality and we have one of the highest percentages of working women in the world. Women also represent 65% of all students in Danish Universities! So where do they end up if not in leadership roles? In Denmark, higher education is free, which means that most of the money invested in these future talents is “wasted”. And we waste crucial talents who does not leverage their full potential to their own benefit but also to the benefit of the society. Having such a low number of women in leadership positions, when the talent pool is so big, is a sad waste for the economic world and also for the society as a whole.

In the book we are analysing when the women are disappearing from the “leadership track”. We discovered that there were two “picks” when a large number of women disappear from the track:

First, it is when they are pregnant and start having a family. Many high potential women who takes maternity leave never come back to work, or at least not to the leadership career track. They choose to spend more time with their family rather than pursuing a demanding professional career. The second pick is right before accessing top management positions. A large percentage of women actually do come back to work after having children and keep climbing up the company’s ladder, but then they back down exactly when they’re about to reach top management positions. Why?


Why is exactly what we tried to figure out in the next part of the book.  What we found out is that the “drop out” has only little to do with the “traditional myths” about why women don’t hold management positions. Its not because they don’t want, don’t dare or don’t have the capability. Instead, it has something to do with our leadership culture and the lack of role models.

High power positions are mostly held by men, and power is largely associated with manhood. Spheres of power are built upon masculine codes, and result in creating an unfriendly environment for minorities, like women. It is difficult for women to be themselves in a boardroom or leadership team full of men. Women feel like they do not belong to the male dominated sphere of power and they feel

that their behavior and female values are not welcome. It makes them uncomfortable to be forced to “play a role” and adapt and in the end they don’t feel its worth it.

Have you listed in your book solutions to address this issue?

The first step is for the men in the leadership teams to be aware of this issue and have a more inclusive behavior and culture. Mentoring is also very important: we need more role models, both male and female, to share their knowledge and advices, and to provide guidance through the difficult career path.
In addition, I think managers need to give voice to women’s concerns, and understand that these concerns are different from men’s ones. Men and women communicate differently, and it is sometimes difficult for male managers to address correctly women’s concerns. To provide you with an example, when a man gets a job offer, he will take it without hesitation and will even tend to oversell himself while a woman, even if she’s interested by the offer, will first focus on work and life balance and how she’ll be able to arrange her personal and professional responsibilities. As a result, the manager will tend to think that  she is less eager to get the job and the male candidate will be preferred, even if the woman would have been better. Instead he should talk to her about her personal challenges and convince her that there are solutions and help her by giving her the flexibility needed to fulfill the job.


2.      The book is exploring women’s paths to top management positions in Denmark. From your personal perspective and book outcome, what are the key leadership skills necessary to succeed in these positions?

Women should be more aware of how their concerns is received/perceived by their managers. They should understand that what they express could be misinterpreted as reluctance. Both women and men should learn more about women’s communication.

Also, I think we need more female role models to provide examples of success to which other women can rely on. It is important to show that you don’t need to be a superwoman to be a leader. You can have a life aside from your work, you can have a family, you can have friends! Few years ago, I gave a long interview in a magazine, where I dispelled the myth that you have to be a superwoman to be successful. You cannot be a super partner, a super friend, a super mother and a super professional. But you can be a successful leader and still be a good mother, friend and partner. You don’t have to work 20 hours a day and travel 200 days a year, you can be effective and successful with less. But men love to paint the picture of themselves being hard working and sacrificing everything for their career – but this picture does not appeal to women, - and I also think it does not appeal to the younger more modern man either.

3.      Over the past 10 years, you have held several leadership positions at Microsoft. Could you please tell us more about your personal experience as a woman in C-level positions?

First, I was incredibly lucky to have a great mentor, who really believed in me, who had a strong experience in leadership, and who supported me. When I arrived at Microsoft, I had no experience in leadership, yet, but she really trusted my leadership skills and pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Second, I also think I have been lucky to work for Microsoft, because this company is more focused on employees results than on their time spent at work.  You’re responsible for your work, and as long as the job is done, nobody will check the number of hours you spent in front of your computer screen. I need this flexibility in my work, and to have control over my life, and my work.

Third, I know I am not a superwoman, therefore, I am not afraid of “outsourcing” household chores. For instance, I have one au pair for my children. I learned how to share tasks.


4.      What is Microsoft’s commitment to gender equality?

Microsoft is indeed committed to gender equality and has developed a set of principles for women’s empowerment within the company in regards to discriminations at work, equal pay between women and men, and gender equality on boards. One of these principles is to get at least 30% of women amongst our employees and in our management teams as well. Our VP in Western Europe, Eric Boustouller, has over the past 2-3 years been hiring many women to lead our subsidiaries, almost half of the general managers of Microsoft subsidiaries in Western Europe are now women!  The company is also working on education programs to inspire young girls to pursue studies in the tech sector. Microsoft created the DigiGirlz program, which gives worldwide high school girls a chance to experience firsthand what it is like to develop cutting-edge technology and grow their careers in this field. This year was launched #Makewhatsnext, a program that helps empower the next generation of women with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to become creators in a world where technology is embedded into every aspect of life.


5.      Do you think we can talk about a “Nordic model” in management? If so, what would be the key features of this management model?

I don’t know if we can talk about a Nordic model in management, I think we can speak more of a modern leadership style. It is a model that builds on trust and empowerment, transparency and respect. Trust, respect and empowerment means that you believe you have hired the best possible have faith in your team to do the job in the best possible way and avoid micro management. Transparency means that you try to be as transparent as you can to give the people in the team the information they need to understand the strategy and the objectives , you are trying to achieve. This way you leverage all their potentials and build trust in your team

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