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Invigorating insights into the Danish living and working culture

Kay Xander Mellish

travels from Denmark, USA

Corporate comedian with a humorous twist on US-Denmark business culture and women in business. Insightful and entertaining.

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5 out of 5 stars

“I had the pleasure of having Kay attend one of my leadership team meetings. As a Dane living in America, I thought it would be insightful to have Kay join and talk about the culture differences and styles between the two countries. Her delivery and presentation was effective, humorous, and spot on. She is entertaining and gives great understanding about how to mesh both worlds together.”

Novo Nordisk US, Ulrich Otte, Senior Vice President Finance & Operations at Novo Nordisk See all references
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Kay Xander Mellish is an American in Denmark whose fun and informative presentations help Danes and internationals work together better.

Entertaining and informative speaker on Scandinavian culture and Scandinavian business culture, with a focus on Denmark and Copenhagen. What can the world learn from Scandinavia? And what can Scandinavia learn from the rest of the world?

In these times of social change, the Scandinavian model is often held up as a better and fairer society. Universal health care, plenty of paid time off, generous parental leave, and punishing tax systems to reduce inequality are being discussed in many other countries, including the United States.

Kay Xander Mellish, an American who lives in Denmark and has become a Danish citizen, is familiar with all that’s good about Scandinavia – and a little bit of what isn’t. Her upbeat style with plenty of light humor builds on solid facts and useful insights. Customers say her presentations are entertaining and educational.

As the author of the books “How to Work in Denmark” and “Working with Danes: Tips for Americans”, Kay has a special insight in Danish working culture and the Danish management
style. The “flat hierarchy” which Scandinavians are so proud of can be mystifying to colleagues in other countries used to a more traditional I’m-the-boss-and-I’m-in-charge approach.

Beyond “hygge” and “the happiest countries in the world” lie complex societies with a long history and distinct challenges alongside their many advantages. For example, there are far more women in management in the USA (40.7% of all managers) than in Denmark (26.8% of all managers.).

Kay Xander Mellish is the author of five books about Denmark, including “How to Live in Denmark”, and is the voice behind the long-running “How to Live in Denmark podcast”, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Book Kay to learn more about Scandinavian business culture and everything else Scandinavian culture has to offer.

See keynotes with Kay Xander Mellish

    Keynote by Speaker Kay Xander Mellish

    WORKPLACE CULTURE IN DENMARK: DON’T USE YOUR TITLE, DON’T ACT LIKE A BOSS

    • Workplace culture in Denmark, like so many other things in Denmark, emphasizes equality. That means that if you walk into a room full of Danish businesspeople, it can be hard to tell who is the boss. Everyone dresses the same, and it’s considered bad manners to act like you’re more important than anyone else. When your Danish business counterparts introduce themselves, they probably won’t even use their titles.
    • High salaries and a culture of trust means Danish companies do less monitoring and measuring of their employees than is common in many other countries. Instead, they hire employees they trust, outline the assignment, and then step back and let them do their jobs. That means when international bosses bring their home country’s management techniques to Denmark, they’re often perceived as control freaks and micromanagers.
    • Danish employees change jobs more than employees in any other country in Europe – so how do you retain your most valuable staff? Management by fear won’t work in a country with such an extensive network of social services, a soft pillow to fall back upon. The answer: giving your team an active role in the development of your product or service, and a sense of purpose that their work has a wider social good. 
    • Kay Xander Mellish is the author of How to Work in Denmark and a communications professional who has been on staff at several of Danish largest corporations, as well as at several American Fortune 500 companies.
    • In this entertaining, informative presentation, she’ll offer insight on how non-Danish businesses with high levels of hierarchy, reporting and accountability can work more smoothly with the Scandinavian business culture of equality and trust.

    Keynote by Speaker Kay Xander Mellish

    AN AMERICAN IN DENMARK: THE PROS AND CONS OF LIVING IN “THE HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.”

    • Have you ever thought of packing up your life and moving to Denmark, the “happiest country in the world”? American Kay Xander Mellish did it – and this is her story. 
    • Many Americans have skewed perspectives about Denmark. On the left, Denmark is often seen as a utopia for our times, with its generous Danish social benefits that include tax-funded medical care, university tuition, childcare, and parental leave. On the right, the country is often seen as a troubling example of high-tax “socialism”.
    • Yet Denmark is not socialist; it is a capitalist, free-market society that is in many cases more libertarian than the US or UK. Meanwhile, its draconian immigration laws (which exclude many Americans), plus lack of ethnic, social, and cultural diversity would shock many of the “woke” types who might otherwise admire this Nordic social welfare state. 
    • Kay Xander Mellish is an American who moved to Denmark and ultimately became a US-DK dual citizen. The author of “Working with Danes: Tips for Americans” and “Working with Americans: Tips for Danes”, she’ll share the raw (and often very funny) truth about the pluses and minuses of living in “the happiest country in the world.”

    Keynote by Speaker Kay Xander Mellish

    WOMEN IN BUSINESS IN SCANDINAVIA: WHAT DOES EQUALITY LOOK LIKE?

    Women in the Scandinavian countries have advantages women elsewhere in the world can only dream of.  Pregnancy care and maternity leave are generous, working hours are reasonable and flexible, and some countries mandate 40% female representation on corporate boards.

    Still, challenges remain. Why is the percentage of managers who are female only 26.8% in Denmark and 34.5% in Norway, compared to 40.7% in the US? Why are there so many more female leaders in the Scandinavian public sector as compared to the private sector?

    And why has “me too” suddenly become a hot issue in the Nordic countries? Top male politicians on both the left and right have found themselves unemployed due to behavior that has in some cases been going on for decades.

    In this presentation, Kay Xander Mellish – the author of How to Work in Denmark, who has worked in Fortune 500 companies in both Denmark and the US – will discuss the brights and darks of being a woman in business in Scandinavia.

References

“I had the pleasure of having Kay attend one of my leadership team meetings. As a Dane living in America, I thought it would be insightful to have Kay join and talk about the culture differences and styles between the two countries. Her delivery and presentation was effective, humorous, and spot on. She is entertaining and gives great understanding about how to mesh both worlds together.”

Ulrich Otte, Senior Vice President Finance Operations

Novo Nordisk US

“We recently had Kay Xander Mellish speak at one of our quarterly leadership meetings for our commercial leadership team in EMEA. Kay delivered one of the best one-hour speeches that we have ever seen in this group! Her high energy, enthusiasm and knowledge about the ‘Danish’ and ‘American’ work culture is amazing. She delivers the speak in a very personable way and she has an amazing ability to connect with the audience and stay connected for the duration of the presentation. The audience left feeling excited, motivated and definitely more knowledgeable about how to work in the best way in a Danish and American context.”

Mette Vorre, HR Business Partner

Cooper Surgical

“You caught the attention of the audience very well and judged by the number of questions and positive comments in the end, our colleagues walked away more knowledgeable about how to communicate better with our American colleagues.”

Nadja Borelli-Sejersen, Head of Organizational Development

Zealand Pharma

“We invited Kay to speak to our young international talents from our Postgraduate Program at Danfoss. Kay left a great impression in her fun, inspiring and informative way of delivering her presentation.”

Rami Ismail, HR, Postgraduate Program Consultant

Danfoss

“As a Danish-based company employing in the US and EMEA, Kay helped us understand some of the cultural differences, similarities, and barriers that affect our daily work. All done with great (familiar) examples and a sense of humour. She can really relate to both sides and puts things nicely into context.”

Benedikte Schaltz, HR Generalist

Humio

“Thank you for a great talk! You wouldn’t imagine the amount of positive comments I got from several colleagues. We all feel we understand our American counterparts better now, and overall we’re more sensitive to the huge cultural differences we face every day, as we have offices in several locations in the US.”

Flavia Kaiser-Nykjær, Data Specialist

Genomic Solutions
2021-06-17

What can Denmark and the US learn from each other?

This is an article written by Kay Xander Mellish

What can Denmark and the US learn from each other?

Danish working culture is known around the world for its egalitarian “flat hierarchy” and good work life balance. And US working culture is known for its ambition, dynamism, and ability to integrate newcomers from many cultures.

What can Denmark and the US learn from each other?

As a citizen of both countries, I’m quite familiar with their many positives – and a few negatives.

Denmark sees employee as “whole person”

One of the things Denmark does best is taking care of employees, who are generally seen to be just as important as customers. Team members aren’t asked to work more hours than they’re paid for, or to skip any of the five weeks’ vacation required by law. Parental leave is generous.

Danish working culture is thoughtful about employees’ “softer” needs after as well. For example, on Christmas Eve – the high point of Denmark’s holiday season – city buses stop running from 5pm until 11pm. This is so bus drivers can go home and eat Christmas Eve dinner with their families.

The US too often demands that employees sacrifice their personal lives to work, as each boss does his or her best to maximize short-term results. Danish working culture is better at seeing each team member as a “whole person” – which is why their age, family structure, and personal hobbies are often a part of job interviews and listed on CVs.

That’s much less likely in the US, in part because employers worry about discrimination lawsuits.

US integrates newcomers better

The US is further down the road of multiculturalism than Denmark, and despite ongoing challenges, it does a much better job of integrating immigrants into the job market.

US working culture offers newcomers more room for advancement – many American CEOS were born elsewhere and two presidents in a row (Obama and Trump) were the children of immigrants, as is current vice-president Kamala Harris.

Most Danish managers are ethnic Danish, and in private industry, most of them are men. According to the OECD’s 2019 statistics, 26.8% of managers in Denmark are women, compared to 40.7% in the US.

This relative lack of diversity means that in some companies there is just one way of doing things – the Danish way. And the Danish way is subject to “the law of Jante”, which mandates modesty and sometimes punishes ambition. This can make Danes reluctant to admit to ambition or enthusiasm or celebrate success on the job, because they don’t want to be perceived as bragging.  It can also make them appear hypercritical, because they’ll share negative feedback but avoid sharing the positive.

One thing Danes do right, however, is giving their employees a lot of room to innovate on the job. Danish bosses tend to outline the assignment at hand, the timeline, and the budget, and then step back and give skilled employees the freedom to approach the challenge in the way they think best.

To a Dane, US bosses can seem like micromanagers, with a hands-on approach that is a little exhausting for both boss and employee. Yet many Americans enjoy the inspiration and guidance of a hands-on boss.

Both Denmark and the US have effective, energetic business cultures, but they have plenty to learn from each other.

What can the US learn from Denmark?

  • See employees as a “whole person” outside work, and limit working hours
  • Give employees more independence on the job to make them feel more confident

What can Denmark learn from the US?

  • Become more open to internationals in the workplace, and let them advance
  • Celebrate success and give more positive feedback to suppliers and colleagues
04.10.2018

Interview with Kay Xander Mellish

What was the biggest culture shock coming from US to Denmark?

The biggest culture shock for me coming to Denmark was the lack of competitiveness and sharp elbows here. I had been living in Manhattan and working in the financial industry, so I was used to swimming with sharks! But Danish business culture, and Danish culture in general, are much more about teamwork and common goals.

Have things changed in Denmark compared to how they were when you arrived?

Since I arrived more than a decade ago, Denmark has become a brand. Danish design and hygge -the coziness of quiet time at home – are known all over the world, and Denmark is often called the “happiest country in the world.” While they’re modest on an individual basis, Danes have become extremely proud of their societal and economic model. But, as history has shown us, pride goes before a fall. High levels of personal debt, poor integration of newcomers, and strains on the public schools and public health system are already apparent in Denmark – and these are the good times.

What got you interested in Scandinavian work culture?

In a globalized world, we’re often told that long working hours, fiery ambition, and sharp elbows are required for economic success. But the Danish working culture has none of these characteristics. Most Danes work 37.5 hours a week or less; at 5pm offices are generally empty. There’s little hierarchy and personal ambition is kind of a dirty little secret; you’re allowed to be ambitious for the quality of your product, but an eagerness to get rich or rise to the top of the heap is considered in poor taste.

Despite that, Denmark is a wealthy country with a thriving export industry. Part of it is a dedication to quality: Danes have a great respect for something that is beautifully made, and the curiosity to continue evolving what they make, whether its architecture, home goods, or pharmacueticals. And part of it is a lack of corruption and general trust in each other. Many countries – including the USA, where I come from – have to waste a lot of money on security and employee monitoring because they lack this level of trust.

How much does humor factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?

Danes are very good at having a sense of humor about themselves – along with the British, they’re probably the world leaders in dry self-deprecation. Where else would people present their circle of friends with a “failure cake” (kvajekage) or, after hours, a “failure beer” (kvajebager) to ironically celebrate the fact they’d made a stupid mistake? The fact that Danes are so good at what they call “self irony” makes it easy for me to incorporate gentle humor into my presentations – some of it directed at myself!

Do you have a favourite experience from your speaking career?

I frequently do “Welcome to Denmark” speeches for the many international students who study at Danish universities, and one of the topics I touch on is dating. I tell the students that in Denmark it’s very common for women to ask men for dates – in fact, if a woman waits for a Danish man to make a move, she may wait a long time!

When I was making a repeat appearance at one school, a young Polish woman came up to me and asked if I remembered her from my last speech a couple of years before. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t, but she didn’t mind. She’d said she’d followed my dating advice and taken the initiative with a Danish man she’d had her eye on – and now they were engaged!

See keynotes with Kay Xander Mellish
Non-binding request for Kay Xander Mellish

Send a simple request. You’ll get a quick reply with fees and availability

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Kay Xander Mellish
Kay Xander Mellish

5 out of 5 stars

“I had the pleasure of having Kay attend one of my leadership team meetings. As a Dane living in America, I thought it would be insightful to have Kay join and talk about the culture differences and styles between the two countries. Her delivery and presentation was effective, humorous, and spot on. She is entertaining and gives great understanding about how to mesh both worlds together.”

Novo Nordisk US, Ulrich Otte, Senior Vice President Finance & Operations at Novo Nordisk See all references

Keynote topics with Kay Xander Mellish