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Much more than “a good girl”

In the spring, 40-year-old Nicole van der Doe was hired to boost diversity and thus also gender equality in Danske Bank. Things are not as they should be, at the bank, in the sector or in society – so even though she calls it the best job in Denmark, it is maybe also the hardest job in Denmark

9. Mar 2021
10 min
Photo: Rune Lundø

The article has been updated - since the interview, Nicole Van Der Doe has got a new job. On February 1 this year, she was appointed Head of Treasury after Sales at Dansk Bank.)

“She’s a really good girl”.

A good many times in her almost 16-year career in Danske Bank, Nicole van der Doe has heard herself mentioned this way by managers or heard from others that she was called that by a manager. She is not happy about the compliment.

“You would never call a guy a ‘good boy’, but there are many women at Danske Bank who are referred to as ‘good girls’. That it is meant as praise does not change the fact that it is condescending. “I am an ambitious, hardworking woman. Why are I and other women not referred to in the same way as men?”

Nicole van der Doe is ready to talk and brimming with well-formulated arguments served with big smiles at regular intervals when Magasinet Finans met her in one of the meeting rooms around the boardroom in the bank’s buildings at Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen.

“I have occasionally been told by my manager that I’m a little too direct. It is important to find a balance so that the male managers in the bank get on board, because they have to drive change, an individual woman can’t do it alone. But I can get angry, because it takes up my time, and something has to happen. Fortunately, Danske Bank’s management also agrees on this.”

Management’s ear
She got the newly created position as Diversity & Inclusion Lead in May. She has not had any problems communicating her new role to the relevant managers, the bank has laid out a new strategy in the area, and she has been invited to one management meeting after another. Here she reminds them that diversity pays off on the bottom line, and since there are an equal number of women and men employed in the bank, there should be enough talents to choose from amongst both genders.

“It’s very different how it’s received when I give a presentation. Many people are preoccupied with it to varying degrees, others get a tired look on their face that we have to talk about it again. But we have to do that, and above all we have to do more about it.”

Nicole van der Doe has many suggestions as to what can be addressed in the bank. She has in-depth knowledge of it from several different job functions and also has extra insight by virtue of her many years as a union representative. Most recently, she has also been given the position of area union representative, because even though she has a lot to look after, she could not ignore a strong call from Finansforbundet in Danske Bank.

“I think it’s exciting to be involved in influencing things, including as a union representative. So even though there’s a lot to take care of, I said yes. And to be allowed to dive into equality and diversity in my new job is absolutely fantastic, I’ve talked about it as a union representative for so many years.”

She calls it the best job in Denmark but adds that it might also be the hardest:

“It’s a process to get things moving, and at the same time there are a lot of stakeholders throughout the bank. Things are really happening every day.”

No special considerations
Although Nicole van der Doe thrives on moving fast, as a divorced mother of 9-year-old Benjamin and 6-year-old Sophia, she also puts a priority on her free time.

“It’s crucial for me to be able to pick them up on time. I show up very early, work energetically and like it when they get put to bed in the evening – but I demand the freedom to organise my own work. When I get that, it all works really well.”

Her sister picks up the children once a week, and she has a “9/5 arrangement” with her ex-husband. She really works all the way through the five days he has them.

She rarely lets colleagues know the logistics she has to go through. She still shares it with the readers of Magasinet Finans, because she has a point to make with regard to gender equality.

“There are many people at work who do not know that I am divorced. I never wanted to be someone people make special considerations for. In general, in my opinion, people shouldn’t make special considerations for women rather than men at work.”

She herself once experienced being disqualified from an internal talent program because she was a new mother and was also pursuing a bachelor’s degree. It was her manager’s assessment that she had enough on her plate because of it.

“Isn’t it me who should decide that? I definitely mean that. I should make the decision myself whether it’s too much for me.”

Compartment system against stress
When there is pressure in both private life and work, she uses her compartment systems.

“I am good at focusing completely on one task and then putting it completely aside to deal with the next one. It helps me avoid getting stressed.”

In some situations, the compartment system has been challenged. In particular, Nicole van der Doe, whose last name is due to her Dutch ex-husband, remembers the time around their divorce as being brutal.

“Within half a year, I got divorced, my daughter was admitted to semi-intensive care with a collapsed lung, my sister, who I am the next of kin for, was admitted to intensive care, and I and the children had to be rehoused for three months because the roof on our terraced house was collapsing.”

Then her mother got a blood clot, but luckily everyone got better, and a new roof was put on the terraced house. It is located in Holmen in Copenhagen, and the family moved in as early as 2012 as one of the first in the area.

“It has developed into a very homogeneous area. It’s a little funny considering that I now work with diversity and with how diversity can be enriching. The residents have educations and jobs that are similar to each other, and many are in the same place in life with small children”, says Nicole van der Doe, when Magasinet Finans also visited her in private and got a tour.

She is very enthusiastic about her neighbourhood and loves that it is not far from either the children’s school at Christianshavn or her work. Everything can be reached quickly by bike, and there are green routes and water to look at when she takes one of her many walks, which she likes to mix in with both time with friends and alone time.

Take up the fight against doubt
Even though it is all working out for her at the moment, she can occasionally hear a small doubt peeping up inside her. She questions her own competencies and whether they are enough. She knows it’s a doubt many women are familiar with and do their best to hide:

“Even though I want to make a career, I have also experienced in the past that I did not dare follow advice to pursue a job change. I was afraid I could not do the job.”

Back then, it was only when she received several strong urgings from a male manager that she agreed to take a test before the position could maybe become hers. She was very nervous, but was amongst the top five he had picked out for the test – at the time he had tested around 200 people.

She talks about it calmly, devoid of self-assertion, hoping that other women will find the courage to challenge their own doubts.

Early in her career, Nicole van der Doe also refused to follow the management track because she did not think she had enough to offer. Today, she feels ready for management, but wonders whether there are hardly any young men who say ‘no thanks’ to such an offer.

Even though she has not always jumped up immediately when opportunities have opened up, she has done a lot to move forward – including actively seeking out mentors at Danske Bank and building up an internal network.

A winding career path
“Today, I have job with responsibility and close contact with the management, which I have gained by moving sideways in the organisation, building on and collecting new experiences, which in turn have opened up new things. There is not just one career path that goes through university and right up the ladder, you can get to the goal in other ways.”

Her ending up in a bank as an advisor was more or less an accident at first. It was mostly because she preferred the form of education of an apprenticeship rather than embarking on a long, theoretical education.

“Overall, I have always been happy to work at Danske Bank. With inspiring and talented managers, the work has really lifted me up at times.”

Some of the managers have actively helped her along, but she has done the legwork herself, which has formed the basis for the internal shift. For example, she wanted to work as a dealer early in her career and studied in the evenings for three years in addition to the job to reach her goal. Even though she learned quickly and demonstrated good results, she was ignored and talked about condescendingly in the male-dominated environment, but she ended up being accepted for her professionalism and results.

“Eventually, they got used to me.”

Perhaps the ability to adapt was founded early. She lived in the U.S. for the first six years of her life, her now deceased father being American. Her parents divorced and her Danish mother took the two daughters to her hometown of Aalborg, where, in particular, the school system was completely different from what Nicole had managed to become familiar with in the U.S.:

“I started in 1st grade without knowing a word of Danish, but my mother had always spoken Danish to us, so it was quick to learn it.”

It came to benefit her to be bilingual when, after high school, she got a tough but exciting job as an English teacher in Cairo. Fending for herself in Egypt made her into an adult in a short time. Later, she worked for an airline in London for a time.

The world was still open and she had never seen herself in a bank job. Social worker or something in that neighbourhood seemed more close at hand. But since she joined Danske Bank, she has not looked back.

“There are so many opportunities in a bank that you don’t see as an outsider. It unfolded for me little by little”, she says in a way that leaves no doubt that she means it.

What else could you expect from the holder of the best job in Denmark?

Nicole van der Doe

  • Danish mother, American father. Lived in the U.S. for the first six years of her life, then moved to Aalborg with her mother and sister.
  • Hired at Danske Bank as a student in 2005.
  • With her role as a private advisor as a launch pad, she has worked across the organisation and also trained, completed a bachelor of commerce degree, a diploma programme and a bachelor’s degree.
  • Amongst other things, she has worked as a dealer, been a project manager in Business Banking and been involved in the work with the Better Bank 2023 strategy.
  • Since May, she has been employed full time in the position of Diversity & Inclusion Lead in Corporates and Institutions and CFO.
  • Union representative since 2018, area union representative since June.
  • Lives in Copenhagen in a terraced house in Holmen along with her children, Benjamin aged 9 and Sophia aged 6.
  • Takes a lot of long walks.

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