by Rasmus Boegeskov Larsen
”Why is it necessary for women leaders to meet with each other? You are all doing so well”.
Katrine Ebdrup Damgaard was met with this question from some male colleagues after participating in the Women Take the Lead network organized by the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Initiative. She was happy they asked her.
“We really need to have these conversations. In Denmark, we think we have a very equal society, but women still face structural challenges, and it can be very helpful for us to meet and talk about it. I told my colleges what I experienced in the network and about the discussions we had. It led to some really good conversations. When 20 women from different backgrounds who have all experienced structural challenges, it is easier to convince others that it exists. It is not just me”, she says.
Katrine Ebdrup Damgaard is heading a newly established alliance that aims to strengthen the political influence of the cultural sector in Denmark. The alliance brings together associations representing for instance libraries, theaters, and museums, and allows them to speak with one voice with politicians and stakeholders.
The 31-year old leader says she is privileged to have many good networks in her work life, but lacked one where she could talk about the specific challenges facing young, female leaders.
“It was really nice to be in a space where everyone has experienced the challenges you meet as a young, female leader with high ambitions. It can be hard to share this in other networks, since it is not always taken seriously. It was great to be able to share the frustrations you have when you for instance are treated in a meeting as a student assistant. “I have experienced that I was asked to bring coffee, when actually I was the one facilitating the meeting. I gained a lot from hearing how other women had delt with such an experience, and what tools they had used”, she tells.
Just recently, Katrine Ebdrup Damgaard says she felt the benefits of the network when she was holding job interviews.
“What happened was exactly what we had spoken so much about in the network. The women were all very well prepared for the job interview and knew all about the organization, whereas many of the men didn’t even bring a notebook and had hardly taken a look at our website. We had talked a lot in the network about how women feel instinctively a need to show that they are qualified, and know what they talk about. They want to feel in control. Men however trust that they will do well and believe that if it doesn’t work out, they will just find a job in another place”, she tells.
So, what should you do as a leader in that situation?
“I think we need to do like we did in the network. We need to facilitate conversations in our workplaces so that we can expose these dynamics and talk about what we can learn from each other. The ideal is not that everyone does like the women. Some men need to prepare themselves much more, but many women are too well prepared and lose their authenticity in the job interview. We need to turn down our need to be in control”.
During the Women Take the Lead network, the participants were challenged to confront disagreements and develop their arguments.
“There was especially one exercise that I really enjoyed. We were presented with a statement, and then had to find our place on an ‘opinion line’ depending on how strongly we agreed or disagreed with the statement. Then those that agreed and those that disagreed together developed their strongest arguments and we had a debate between the two groups. At the end we would then find out if the arguments had made some of us change our minds”, she tells.
The women had been surprised to find how much they had in common. They didn’t share perspectives on everything, but their differences were rooted more in personality than in country of origin.
“Of course, there are some major differences between Denmark and Egypt. The influence of religion in our daily life is for instance not something that we talk that much about in Denmark. We actually find it hard to discuss it with our friends and family. In Egypt the influence of religion is something that is talked about more openly, but the women in our group could also tell us that it can take up too much space”.
“But despite these differences, I never felt we were in two camps. There was a range of different perspectives among the Danes, and among the Egyptians. For instance, we talked a lot about the right balance between work and private life. Do you need to compromise on your ambitions, if you want to have kids? Some want to spend a lot of time with their children, whereas others think it is good for the development of the children that other people also take care of them. It was a really interesting discussion with room for a lot of nuances”
Katrine Ebdrup Damgaard.
The network has strengthened her belief that women leaders can pave the way for others.
“We are 20 excellent proofs that women can be just as ambitious as men, and just as good leaders as men. It is so important that we as women contribute ourselves to normalize the world, we want to live in. We must live the change we want to see”, she says.