Harmony Week 2022: In conversation with Petra Lundgren


What is your cultural background? How does this differ from race/ethnicity? (please note that answers are different for everyone)

I am Swedish, with an ethnic influence from the Walloon migration into Sweden in 16/17th century (or so the family legend says). In my mind, ethnicity and culture is somewhat akin to the concept of sex and gender. One is identified by DNA the other by identity and societal expectations. I am ethnically north European, and culturally Swedish, so in my case my ethnicity reflects my (expected) culture.

What has been your experience as a culturally diverse person in Australia?

Despite being quite a diverse culture, the Australia that I mostly inhabit is still very English/Anglo in its culture, and to me, it feels quite conservative (more so when I moved here in the mid-90s!). My cultural up-bringing does always put me slightly off centre, I am constantly aware that I do not quite fit in and still, after 27 years of being immersed in Australia, I feel very Swedish in a lot of my reactions and actions. I gave my kids coffee when they were young, not a big deal in Sweden, but here it was a HUGE no no, from people who then happily gave their kids a coca cola (always perplexed me…). I was also very surprised (and disappointed) by how strong the gender roles still were here once I had kids.

What been your experience as a culturally diverse person within the working environment?

The most obvious cultural difference is the strong hierarchy that remains in many Australian workplaces I have been in. I get told that people find me abrasive and at times disrespectful, which is likely a reflection of my cultural response to authority. I have moderated this behaviour a lot over the years.

How can a workplace be more inclusive of different cultures and backgrounds?

Making sure staff are culturally aware and acknowledge that culture has a strong impact in how we react, act and engage with people around us


How has your cultural background contributed to your professional career?

By being less intimidated and possibly more “naïve” when it comes to hierarchy, I often approach (and argue with) people who may be perceived as “above my grade”. It has contributed both positively and negatively, depending on who that person has been!

What would you say to another culturally diverse person living/working in Australia?

It is getting increasingly diverse here, and with the amazing mix of cultures and ethnicities that make up Australia now, it will hopefully continue to embrace and celebrate this diversity.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career?

My Ph.D. years. I started my Ph.D. late in life, which meant I came in with quite a few years of industry and Government experience and a work ethic that allowed me to be effective and focused. I also had both my children during this time, so it was a perfect mix of super stimulating work, a good time to revert to a bit of “student again” life, while also being very much in charge of my own trajectory and time.

What do you celebrate, or love most, about your culture?

How all our main cultural celebrations are tied to seasonal produce/weather/. I miss that a lot.

What has been the biggest barrier for you as a culturally diverse person?

Can’t think of any actual barriers.

What is something that you are most proud of about your cultural background?

IKEA. Not really, but something of what that represents is quite entrenched in my culture. Accessible to everyone, practical, clean design (almost boring). I once heard an interview with Zlatan Ibrahimovic after he purchased a house and he said, “now I am off to IKEA to furnish it” and the English reporter said “surely you don’t need to buy furniture at IKEA, that is not where rich people buy furniture” and Zlatan responded with a “maybe not, but smart people do”.

I am proud of the relevant social justice that exists in Sweden. That tax money goes towards people (free childcare, paid parental leave, free education, good public media (no Murdoch media to be seen!), a school free from religious bias). I felt that sense of equity and social justice is pretty strong in our culture overall.

Want to be part of a growing STEM Women network? Create a profile to discover opportunities relevant to you.