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Equality should never be an item on an agenda

Mads Skovlund Pedersen works towards diversity and for more women in management. Why? Because it is fair and because it is the right thing to do.

16. Mar 2021
4 min

He is a bank director at Nordea, holds three degrees and has been a manager for more than 12 years. And he wanted to help create a society where everyone enjoys equal terms and opportunities and where going to work is fun, pleasant and safe for all.

‘Whether female managers are good for the bottom line is not the most important aspect to me. The most important thing is that everyone has equal opportunities to do what they want with their career, and the numbers show clearly that, for many years, women have not had the same opportunities as men – and that is not acceptable.’

There is certainly no doubt that the numbers in the statistics database at Finanssektorens Arbejdsgiverforening (the Danish Employers’ Association for the Financial Sector) clearly show that there are fewer women than men in management in the financial sector. The figures indicate that the share of women in general management positions in the sector between 2009 and 2019 has fluctuated between 20 and 27 percent.

No thank you to diversity projects

According to the bank director, diversity is therefore not a matter that should or can be reduced to a project or an initiative area.

‘If you do that, it becomes an item on the agenda which you have to remember at a meeting. But then what happens when you are done with that item or the project – is it resolved and can we say that everyone now has equal terms at work and in society?’

According to Mads Skovlund Pedersen, this is inconsistent with what we have experienced. And he believes that a fundamental culture change is necessary in order to effectively move things in the direction he believes they should go. It is a change that takes longer than he had thought, but now he has learned what works.

‘In my management group, we work to make diversity an integrated part of all processes where it makes sense. For instance, when we write job posts, hire new employees and work with our talents and talent development programmes, the diversity balance is incorporated as part of our processes, our use of language and our core message,’ he explains.

For example, this specifically means that Nordea has a requirement that there must be at least one person of the opposite sex among the last three candidates for job positions and management positions. In addition, there is an active effort to move away from what Mads Skovlund Pedersen calls stereotypic corporate macho language in the job posts, so that they have broader appeal and do not necessarily state that you have to be ‘forward leaning’ and ‘willing to go the extra mile’. We are also ensuring that there is greater gender balance among candidates in the talent development programmes.

Yes please to dialogue and security

So does this mean that there is nothing but equality and peaceful change in a financial company like Nordea, where management has traditionally been male-dominated – and how should you best tackle the changes that may arise? Mads Skovlund Pedersen also has experience in this regard, and the key words here are dialogue and security:

‘You don’t need to have had maths for many years to figure out that if there is a lack of women in the top layers of management and the number of positions is the same, then you need a gradual change in the way you fill the positions so that the gender balance is altered over time. It can create a sense of insecurity, and we speak about this openly.’

According to Mads Skovlund Pedersen, a workplace characterised by security is an inclusive workplace.

‘We speak with the employees about the diversity journey we are on, and we bring the insecurities out in the open. For instance, some men may express their concern that they may no longer be chosen for a managerial position. And they are permitted to do so. However, while ten years ago they competed solely with other men, today they compete with both men and women. That dialogue is important.’

The reward of diversity

Mads Skovlund Pedersen is not in doubt that diversity and inclusion leads to greater employee satisfaction and better results. However, he believes that, first and foremost, it contributes to making our workplaces and hence our society into a nice and fair place for everyone to be, and this is the main reward in his view. Therefore, the director is not looking towards the bottom line in his attempts to get more women into Nordea’s management.


‘I do it because it is fair and because it is the right thing to do. This may be a bit of a simplistic thought, but of course women should have the same opportunities and conditions as men. However change is difficult, and we are all affected by a lot of unconscious bias with respect to our perceptions of gender, work life, etc. Therefore, it should never be an item on an agenda.

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is about how stereotypical conceptions about different groups of people subconsciously shape our opinions towards these groups and maintain our behavioural patterns in relation to the groups. Attention to unconscious bias and training to become more aware of everything we are not aware of is an important part in any kind of work with diversity.

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