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New report provides gender perspective on sustainability in the future world of work

Foto: Johnér

The labour markets in the Nordic countries are changing rapidly. New demands are coming out of the green transition and digital development. What needs to be done to enable sustainable development based on human rights and gender equality? NIKK’s new publication on the future world of work in the Nordic countries highlights some of the opportunities and challenges for a sustainable world of work from a gender perspective.

Labour markets and the world of work are facing a variety of challenges, including challenges emanating from technological change, demographic shifts, and regional differences. This is happening at the same time as views on knowledge, learning and education, and the logics of governance are changing or have changed. NIKK’s new publication Towards a sustainable future world of work in the Nordic countries – The gender perspective on the opportunities and challenges describes these changes and focuses on three of the challenges:  

  • Lifelong learning: being schooled in readiness to change  
  • The significance of place: teleworking and work on site  
  • Forms of employment and working conditions: the gig economy and entrepreneurship as examples. 

By identifying the challenges from a gender perspective, it becomes possible to problematize assumptions about technology-driven social development that have a bearing on the world of work and the supply of skills. They are also positioned in relation to policy goals for sustainable economic, social and environmental development.   

“Gender analyses indicate that prevailing norms and social structures assign women and men different roles, opportunities and responsibilities – and that these norms and social structures are limiting our opportunities to transition to a sustainable society,” says Fredrik Bondestam, Director of the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research where NIKK is located. 

The publication takes up examples where the different aspects of sustainability are somewhat at odds with each other. Economic interests and thus economic sustainability are often given priority over social and environmental sustainability. The examples also show how such unequal priorities reproduce inequalities based on gender, class, age and ethnicity. Intersectional analyses of how different systems of power interact are important to understanding gender and sustainability. 

“There are many opportunities to make the world of work in the future more sustainable, but for this to happen, power relationships must be taken into account. Because they do not automatically change as a result of technological or economic changes. They just find new, different, or additional expressions than previously,” says Fredrik Bondestam. 

Focus on changes in the workplace and education  

Why is the rise in teleworking increasing inequalities? Could it possibly get rural areas in the Nordic region to flourish? Who are the people working in the growing gig economy, where gigs are allocated via digital platforms, and what are the conditions like in this economy? What roles do sex and gender play in education when the role of education is strongly tied to the labour market’s need for employable labour? The three challenges highlighted in this publication in various ways show how the workplace, and education and training systems related to the workplace, have changed in a variety of different ways. These changes are due to technological development, deregulation and different governance logics. 

“New ways of organising work and the demand for a more flexible workforce also challenge previous norms that work is attached to a fixed place and is something where there is a clear employer responsibility. The examples in the publication illustrate how this can manifest itself. Highlighting these changes from a gender perspective is absolutely key to achieving sustainable development,” says Fredrik Bondestam.  

For each of the three challenges, the publication presents a number of central messages as takeaways for future discussions on possible ways forward. These discussions are essential for achieving the 2030 Agenda goals, and for creating a sustainable world of work where nobody is left behind.   

As a Nordic Council of Ministers cooperation body, NIKK – Nordic Information on Gender – contributes to realising the Council’s Vision 2030. NIKK’s areas of activity all deal with one or other of the major challenges of our time, and are based on the global sustainable development goals. By highlighting the gender perspective on pressing issues, NIKK strives to make a contribution to sustainable solutions for social development in the Nordic countries. 

Updated 31 May 2022