by Xenia Kounalaki
Nanna-Louise W. Linde is the vice president for European Government Affairs at Microsoft. An imposing presence, former model and mother of three, her life looks like something out of an episode of the Netflix series “Borgen” – she is Danish after all. At the moment, she lives outside Copenhagen with a husband who calls himself jokingly “the woman of the house.” He is the one doing the chores and taking care of the children when she is traveling the world for three weeks at a time. But soon she will move to Brussels and her husband, an artist, will gladly follow her, since the children have grown up and two are already studying elsewhere.
‘For me it is important to tell a different story to young women: that you can finally have a career and a family and that you don’t have to sacrifice either’
During the interview, as two women coming from two different work cultures, we ended up discussing our experiences. She admits that not even in her home country Denmark are things always ideal for working women, especially outside multinational companies like Microsoft, while I begin to envision how a “social contract” between men and women could be within a Greek family in the future. We kicked off our discussion with the idea that started the digital re-creation of Ancient Olympia as part of Microsoft’s AI for Cultural Heritage program.
“This idea for digitally preserving Ancient Olympia was conceived in Delphi,” she said. “Together with my team we went to the Oracle and the museum and saw a representation of how it stood in antiquity. It inspired an idea of how wonderful it would be to walk among the ruins, just as it was in ancient times. Our leadership took this idea further and so did the Greek government. The initiative began to take shape. Only there was no consensus over how Delphi really looked in ancient times we, therefore, explored other options. As it was an Olympic year back then, we turned to Olympia.”
How do you see the future of work after lockdowns and the pandemic? And what will be the position of women?
At Microsoft, we encourage a hybrid work culture. Our current work-from-home policy allows employees to spend up to 50% of their working hours outside the office, which does not mean exclusively at home but also at appointments etc.
It was women who shouldered the greatest burden during the pandemic since they were asked to combine children’s studies, their work and many household chores. They were usually the victims of domestic violence. Should they not be treated differently now all that is over? Because I have found it is more women who want to stay home and work from there, while men are willing to return to the office.
I confess that I have not thought about it, but I do not think that the two sexes should be treated differently; on the contrary, perhaps it would be good to decide the way of working on a case-by-case basis, depending on the employee and their position. In my opinion, there should be a general rule about hybrid work like the one we have at Microsoft, but of course, a prerequisite is that there are also the necessary support structures for childcare. In Denmark, we have a guaranteed place in a nursery from when the child reaches the age of 6 months. And if there is no place, the state is obliged to find a person who will attend to the child while the mother is working.
When you move to Brussels, what will happen?
Because my youngest daughter is now finishing school, I didn’t want to make her move. Hence, I’m going back and forth this year and she will be staying with my husband while I am in Brussels during the week.
We discussed the example of “Borgen,” in which the mom becomes the PM and the dad stays home and raises the children. Now you are describing a similar model. What is this about? Is this the typical family in Denmark?
No, it is not. I also cannot say that he stays at home and I work. He has his own career. It is also a new situation now that the children are older, which wasn’t the case when I started my career at Microsoft more than 17 years ago. He travels a lot as well, he has his own job, but he also deals a lot with our children. I would say that the flexibility that Microsoft has provided me throughout my career and the fact that we had help at home allowed me to deal with the various demands. For me, it is important to tell a different story to young women: that you can finally have a career and a family and that you don’t have to sacrifice either.
Have you and your husband had equally successful careers?
The truth is that our types of work are very different. I have a business career; he is an artist and real estate investor.
And obviously, that doesn’t bother him, he’s proud…
Yes, he believes in his abilities, and he doesn’t feel disadvantaged towards me.
So, there is no competition between you.
No, and we made a joint decision before I accepted my new role in Brussels, which is a dream job for me.
Will he come with you when your youngest daughter also leaves to study?
Yes, in a year. But if he had told me that he didn’t like the idea of moving, I wouldn’t have done it. I am not ready to sacrifice my family for my career.
Do you think a man would have the corresponding dilemma?
It depends. In my case, my husband was very supportive. He said, “It’s your dream job, do it. We’ll work it out, don’t miss the chance.” To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have done it 10 years ago. Now the kids are grown up and it’s easier.
After listening to you, I believe that all this sounds somewhat like science fiction by Greek standards. I find it very difficult to imagine a Greek husband who would support his wife so much. He would probably be competitive, jealous if she made more money, become toxic or undermine her career. How does a man get this mentality? Is it a matter of upbringing?
No, not in my husband’s case. He comes from a traditional family model: his father was a successful businessman, and his mother was a housewife and mother. It is not that our own family model was familiar to him. He’s just confident and proud of me, he wants me to reach my full potential. He is also adventurous, likes change, and new places. I could live forever in the same house, in the same country. Now that our children have grown up, two people so different can reinvent their lives and their relationship.
Has it always been like that?
Yes, whenever, I got a promotion he would come home with a huge bouquet of flowers. When we entertained guests, he made it easier for me and took care of the preparations when I had to work late. He is indeed wonderful.
Yes, he’s probably the husband we’d all want…
It’s definitely not the norm. I have friends who had to quit their jobs or work part-time because two careers in the same family were too many.
How do you see contacts between men and women in a professional environment?
What saddens me is that a lot of women seem to believe that in order to get into boardrooms of large companies, they have to behave like men. This is not what we need. We need variety, inclusion, and authenticity. That’s what I’m trying to do. To bring my authentic self to work. It is a key virtue. If you want others to listen to you, you have to be honest.
But do you feel that women need to make twice as much effort to be heard?
The truth is that as soon as they hear my title, they listen to me. When, on the other hand, they don’t know who I am, I sometimes feel overlooked. A few years ago, together with other women, I wrote a book on how Denmark is failing its women. Although some time has passed, some of these issues are still relevant today. At the university the women-to-men ratio is about 65 to 35, by the time young women start their first job, the ratio becomes 50-50 and then there is a drop-off due to motherhood and in senior management, the rates are single digit. Why is this happening? The state invests significantly in free education and those investments should not be wasted. We need the best minds in executive positions. When we start off with women occupying 65% of seats in universities and only ending up with 7% in leadership positions, something is telling me that we are not promoting the best minds.
Are you in favor of quotas?
I think quotas are necessary. There is no other way to break the glass ceiling. The paradox is that even women are often against quotas. I don’t get it. Women should take the opportunity and they will prove themselves. My career at Microsoft was also not hampered by the fact that I am a woman. What helped me though was to have supportive managers and mentors as well as inspiring female role models.