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Foreign executive: How I navigate the Danish smørrebrød-hierarchy

DI’s Head of Management Development Kinga Szabo Christensen blogs about life as a foreign executive in Denmark and her difficult start on the Danish job market.

I was born and raised in Hungary, and although I have lived and worked in Denmark for many years now, there is no doubt that my status as a foreigner will never go away.

Both privately and in the workplace, there is no doubt that my Hungarian background is a central part of how my friends and colleagues view me. That’s not surprising, because my background is different.

But that hasn’t stopped me from becoming part of Danish society, the Danish job market – and the Danish community. To the contrary – I have embraced and loved Denmark from day one. It has required tolerance, a great deal of humour – and the ability to turn my different background into my most important quality.

I have learned that my background and Eastern European culture can become my greatest strength when navigating in and moving around the Danish job market. This is something other foreign employees should learn, too, because we need more hands and heads in Denmark.

And we need ‘offbeat’ thinkers. Especially at a time when nothing is conventional anymore and nothing is as usual. Interplay between different cultures in the workplace means interplay between different mindsets and ideas – and ultimately, it creates more innovative solutions and better results.

Diversity is a strength that I have taken advantage of in my 20-year journey on the Danish career path. I believe that a mixture of Danish and foreign employees should be a strategic objective on equal footing with a mixture of genders or ages in Danish workplaces.

I dream of a Danish job market where hiring more foreign heads is not simply a necessity but an aim.

Danish workplaces are governed by a myriad of unwritten rules that us foreigners must learn in order to integrate fully. But they can only be learned if our Danish colleagues and managers are attentive and willing to extend a helping hand to their foreign colleagues.

I cannot help but smile when I think of my first time in a Danish cafeteria. I still remember how I blushed when my Danish colleagues burst out laughing because I didn’t put the ‘right’ cold cuts and toppings on my smørrebrød. I had put mayonnaise and crispy onions on my liver pâté sandwich - and that is something you just don’t do in little Denmark.

If we are to have a more balanced relation to foreign employees in Denmark, it will require a lot more from all parties. Foreign employees must use their different approach and mindset proactively and constructively, while Danish managers and colleagues must broaden their horizons and learn to embrace foreign approaches. It is only through this symbiosis that we can move forwards and win the future in our companies.
Danish workplaces are governed by a myriad of unwritten rules that us foreigners must learn in order to integrate fully.
DI’S HEAD OF MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT KINGA SZABO CHRISTENSEN
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PUBLISHED: 2/21/2018 LAST MODIFIED: 2/21/2018