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We need to move society

You can change the world if you try. This has always been the mantra for Lars Backe, who is a project manager at Danske Bank. He became politically active at a young age and has brought his commitment with him to the bank. In 2020, he co-founded Danske Rainbow Network, which fights for the rights of LGBTQ+ colleagues.

The mood is cheerful in the atrium of Danske Bank’s financial centre in inner Copenhagen, which, on the occasion of the WorldPride week, has been filled with over 50 dancing bank employees dressed in colourful ostrich feather skirts and dark blue T-shirts with the inscription “Move with Pride”.

The participants’ gaze is directed towards the stage, where two dance instructors and a former competitive dancer, all of whom work at the bank, take turns guiding them to cha-cha-cha, African dance and ballroom tunes.

49-year-old Lars Backe also moves in time with the music in white sneakers with rainbow-coloured laces. He is the initiator of the dance event “Dance with Pride” and co-founder of the Danske Rainbow Network, which fights for the rights of LGBTQ+ colleagues and inclusion in the Danske Bank Group. The pride week in August is a time when Lars Backe’s rainbow heart and activist spirit join together in the work for greater diversity and inclusion.

“It gives me a wider network. It gives me a lot of happy moments, and also a feeling of belonging. I feel accepted as being who I am, especially because there is so much support”, says Lars Backe, who is currently a project manager in Danske Bank’s Remediation department cases.

All of us have a responsibility

The idea for the rainbow network came up during the planning for the bank’s participation in Copenhagen Pride in 2019, which Lars Backe had actively taken initiative for. On 30 January 2020, the network went live and has grown to include just under 400 members, at least half of whom are heterosexual, is Lars Backe’s assessment. According to Lars Backe, the broad support is crucial to being able to make a difference not only in Danske Bank but in society in general.  

“This year, we’ve seen the government come up with a proposal that up to four parents in a rainbow family can share parental leave, something we already introduced in the bank last year. This is a way that I believe companies – to a greater extent than you may have been aware of – can help move society, and I think it’s our responsibility to try and push wherever it makes sense.”

He himself takes active responsibility by repeatedly standing up as a mouthpiece for the rainbow network, including in front of a camera, although he feels best behind one, he says. But he does it because he believes that visibility and active role models are essential for everyone to feel part of the community.

City Council politician at the age of 22

The drive to make a difference and move society has been with Lars Backe since he was a child. In elementary school he joined the student council, he later became part of DSU (Social Democratic Youth of Denmark) and at 22 years old and a newly trained assistant in Realkredit Danmark ended up being elected to Helsingør City Council as one of the youngest city council politicians in the country.

“I threw myself into politics because I believed I could make a difference for children and young people and that others should not experience the insecurity I went through myself as a child. Growing up, I felt different and wrong. That is also why the rainbow network is important to me. If I can help make a difference and make just one person feel like it’s easier to be open about who he/she is, then I’ve been successful.”

Lars Backe did not have an easy upbringing. His father was a trained carpenter and his mother was a nurse. Both parents lived a hard life, ended up as early retirees, divorced and died at the ages of 50 and 65. His mother died suddenly in 1995 in the middle of Lars Backe’s term as city councillor, and it knocked the legs out from under the young politician, who had gotten into a political engagement with breast milk.

“From my mother, I inherited a good deal of empathy and motivation to help where you can and to take responsibility for other people if you have more than you need. My mother was the type to happily give her last dollar to a friend in need, and then we’d slog through the rest of the month until we got the money back. I am super proud that I have inherited that commitment from her.”

Thrives on shaping the future

The work in Realkredit Danmark and the city council took up all his time, and the lack of time for family and friends gnawed at Lars Backe’s conscience. He therefore decided after just three years to end his political career in 1996 and put everything into the role of deputy head of a newly established department in his home town of Helsingør.

Since then, things have gone in rapid succession. At age 30, he became part of the Danske Bank Group, of which a good 25 years were in Realkredit Danmark. Ten different job titles adorn his CV. Adviser, deputy manager, team leader, project consultant and project manager have appeared on his business card.

Since 2012, the title of chief consultant has been consistent and associated with various projects, which have primarily had to do with business and product development, housing and innovation. Lars Backe likes to think outside the box and help shape the future.

“It’s always been about developing the business, ensuring IT support, influencing and implementing new legislation etc.”, he explains.

Amongst other things, he has helped develop a new mortgage credit system, which never came to fruition, and launched electronic land title registration. The latter project was like pulling teeth and resulted in him and several other colleagues collapsing with stress. This experience made him become more aware of his body and react when it bristles at a work task or function.    

I am not done creating things

Lars Backe is not afraid of challenges and is happy to take the plunge if it is a good offer. One example is as a 46-year-old participant in the bank’s talent program linked to Singularity University, where along with “young, talented, forward-thinking colleagues”, he proved that innovation, development and curiosity have no age.

Since April this year, he has worked as a project manager in Danske Bank’s department for remediation cases with clean-up and compensation of customers who in some cases have not been treated in accordance with the bank’s standards. A position he deliberately sought because it sounded exciting, the purpose was clear, and the position was temporary.

“Now I’m taking a couple of years and helping the bank, and then I’ll see in two years where I can help make a difference. I am not done creating things, new products, new IT solutions and more. There are lots of things I feel we can do better, including at the sector level.”

Now I’ll share a little about my private life

The career opportunities at Danske Bank were actually the reason why Lars Backe, in his time, dropped his dream of studying law and instead stayed with the Group and found his own way. A career path that he feared in his first few years in the bank would be limited by his sexuality, which he hid until he came out of the closet at the age of 27 in 1999, never to go back again.

His three brothers, who throughout childhood had loudly yelled gay slurs at each other, had not seen it coming but were not surprised. His father said that he and his mother, who had passed away four years earlier, had known since Lars Backe was six years old and insisted on playing with dolls and dollhouses while his brothers played with Action Man figures.

At work, Lars Backe’s manager at the time surprised him when Lars confided in him. His manager assured him that his career prospects after taking the plunge remained unchanged, and then the day after he shared something about his own private life because Lars Backe had opened up to him.
“It was a huge vote of confidence”, says Lars Backe.
His colleagues at the office had no problem with the revelation either.

Live life to the fullest

In 2006, he met Søren, whom he married in 2008. They did not meet at the bank but found out that they had both been employed in the Group at the same time and had common references. However, the marriage did not last and the couple divorced in 2012. Today, Lars Backe lives alone in Frederiksberg, and he does not get bored.

His group of friends is large and active and includes everything from old colleagues to ex-sisters-in-law. And his calendar is always as full as during pride week. Five of the seven days of the week are pleasantly occupied by the theatre group, an opera and ballet friend, concert friends, the festival team, the canasta card club, the rainbow network, the wine club and much more.

Lars Backe thrives best when he is surrounded by people. He lives life to the fullest. A good offer is an obligation, and he would rather say yes than no to a bread-baking course, a trip or a lecture series about the good old days at Folkeuniversitetet.

“Many people who have a hectic work day need to relax in front of the TV when they get home. I’m almost the opposite. I relax when I'm experiencing things or around others. It’s a way of ensuring balance in my life, so that it doesn’t all boil down to work. It’s a way of getting new energy and inspiration.”

We have to work for a common cause

Lars Backe can’t help but get involved in his local environment. When various boards need to have a seat filled, he is ready to give it a go, whether it be in the co-op association, tenant association, film club, wine club with old colleagues from Realkredit Danmark, LGBT Danmark or the Danske Rainbow Network, which is dear to his heart.

Danske Bank employees in Norway, Sweden and India have already expressed their interest in setting up a similar rainbow network. The same is true of other large companies in Denmark, and Lars Backe is pleased to see that the network will spread both within the Danske Bank Group and amongst other Danish companies.

The dream is to change the world to become more inclusive. The way to get there is to establish an organisation that can speak with one voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and to reach beyond individual companies.

“The hope is that at some point we can get the networks together in some kind of umbrella organisation and promote knowledge-sharing across the networks. There is power in gathering several networks from different companies, all working for the same cause.”

Give it the gas, then step back

The picture of the 22-year-old young social democrat is still hanging in Helsingør Town Hall today, but Lars Back has left the party. He cannot come to terms with the hard line towards refugees and immigrants that many of the old party comrades from the main board of DSU have, including Mette Frederiksen and Jeppe Kofod.

And it might not make a difference. Because heart’s blood is heart’s blood. When the Annual General Meeting of his cooperative housing association in November decided to look at a new assessment principle so that the share value could increase, he also withdrew from the board. The community is not up for negotiation for Lars Backe. It should not just be for some but for all. And it’s never fun to be left out and feel wrong.

However, not everyone shares his activist approach and attitude towards the community, not even in the network. Therefore, it’s a balancing act to find out how much and how little noise the rainbow network should make. His heart says: Give it the gas, while his brain says: Step back and tread carefully.

“We have to make sure that we don’t become too nice, that we don’t become indifferent, and that we don’t hijack the whole agenda so that people end up in the opposite trench and get tired of us. But we have to say something and be a little provocative, otherwise it will just be too boring and then we won’t get anything done on this agenda at all. Inclusion and diversity are ‘serious business’, as we say in the network.”

Lars Backe

  • Guy from Helsingør
  • Got tired of school but was cured by a year’s music/theatre project “Perron X”
  • City council politician as a newly trained 22-year-old in Realkredit Danmark
  • Deputy manager at the age of 24
  • Came out at the age of 27
  • Participant in the Singularity University talent program at age 46
  • 30 years of seniority in the Danske Bank Group
  • Co-founder of the Danske Rainbow Network in 2020
  • Project manager in Remediation cases
  • Lives in a cooperative apartment in Frederiksberg
  • Single