Name: Hanne Risbjerg Sørensen
Date of birth: 1972
Title: Senior Director, Head of Renescience
Degree: Master of Food Science Technology from KVL (Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen
Fun fact: Won silver in the European Championships in javelin in 2017 (class: 45 – 50 years)
Who has been your role model?
I have had several female role models in my academic career. My first female role model was Associate Professor Lone Melchior at KVL (Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen). She demanded that we as students take responsibility for our own learning and taught me how to work hard to achieve what I wanted. She made great demands on us as students and constantly challenged us so that we did our best.
As a PhD student. At DTU (Technical University of Denmark), I met my second female role model, Professor Anne Strunge Meyer. She taught me the necessary academic skills I needed to develop new technology. But she also taught me that it is important to choose the battles you want to fight. A piece of advice that I still draw on almost daily.
In my current commercial job at Ørsted, I have several internal female role models that I trust and can go to when I need advice and guidance. I do this in situations where I need sparring, when something is difficult or confusing, and when I am vulnerable and need good advice or someone to have my back.
What advice would you give to younger women?
I have three pieces of advice. The first is that it is important to remain genuinely curious and interested. If I find it difficult to see the perspective of others, I usually keep asking until I understand them. I store knowledge when I fully understand it, and curiosity and interest are the keys to understanding. I have the same approach if something feels wrong.
My second piece of advice, therefore, is to rely on one’s intuition, as it is usually right and can guide decision-making. I’ve learnt that I can usually count on mine. Sometimes it tells me something is wrong, and then I question things – and I keep going. It may be annoying to others, but it does help me get to the heart of problem-solving.
My third piece of advice is to not be afraid of making mistakes. I was like that when I was young, but I decided that I would try to give my opinion, even though I wasn’t 100 per cent certain. The boys did that. They seemed confident even though they weren’t necessarily so.
Do girls have less confidence than boys?
I think many girls come under pressure with their self-confidence in secondary school, which makes their own demands and goals more difficult to achieve. When I was in secondary school myself, I helped many people out with maths. There were small things that were challenging, but it affected them in several subjects.
In sport, I have also trained many people who did not even believe that they could run 10 kilometres, for example. It’s about coaching for success, and for the individual, it’s about being able to do it once, because then you know that you can, and then you can do it over and over again.
What drives you?
The main theme in my career is the desire to create something that will also be here after me – such as now when I am working with a technology that can make green energy out of waste, while preserving and recycling more recyclable materials. All my jobs have been about making the world better, and I have always been driven by curiosity and a greater purpose.
What has been your sore point?
It is not always a gift to be deeply specialised in your own professional field, because you may be challenged by others not seeing things the same way as you do. And if you are too busy, it can come as a surprise. Then we are left with curiosity about the viewpoints of others. And this is important.
When I was young and rough around the edges, I often stuck my head out too far. I wanted responsibility, but it takes time to earn it. I have therefore had to invest time in finding the right jobs and organisations and reining in my eagerness to overcome the hurdles.
What does salary mean to you?
I am driven by the interest in my work and the challenges I have to solve. If I develop both professionally and personally, then salary is less important. What matters to me is that I work with something that can help solve a major challenge in our world. I can’t say I don’t care about salary, but it’s not the driving force.