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‘Seriously, nothing is happening’

One focus area of the Norwegian presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2017 is gender equality in the labour market and the workplace. As part of this ambition, a large Nordic conference on the topic was arranged in early February. Nordic Information on Gender (NIKK) attended the event, which was held Oslo.

Part 2: The labour market

The 2-day conference included discussions on the challenges related to the gender-segregated labour market, the importance of a gender-equal use of parental insurance, discrimination of migrants and prevention of gendered educational choices. The conference gathered participants from business, academia, unions, politics, research and civil society. In a panel discussion on diversity recruitment, Petter Stordalen, owner and chair of Nordic Choice Hotel, expressed frustration over the ultraslow transition to gender equality in the labour market.
‘Seriously, nothing is happening. The universities are full of competent women. What happens to them after they graduate? I’m afraid that men in top positions don’t care about diversity and gender equality. But they should, as several studies show that diversity-oriented businesses tend to be very profitable. Many people think that Nordic Choice actively promotes diversity just to be nice, but we don’t. We do it for the wellbeing of the company,’ he said.

Women more likely to work part time 

 Gerd Kristiansen

Gerd Kristiansen, president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, also participated in the panel discussion. She referred to the systematic gender segregation in the labour market as a big problem on the path to gender equality.
‘Women work part time to a much greater extent than men and also make less money. Women’s pensions are lower than men’s, and they also take more responsibility for ill family members. We need to deal with all these inequalities in order to achieve gender equality in the labour market.’

Lynn Roseberry, PhD, author and former senior lecturer at Copenhagen Business School, stressed the importance of gender equality in parents’ use of the parental insurance.
A comparison shows that Nordic dads take more paternal leave than the world average. Still, big differences can be seen among the Nordic countries, and despite the progress made in gender equality, mothers continue to spend more time caring for children.

According to Gerd Kristiansen, in a European perspective, the Nordic countries have come relatively far when it comes to gender equality in the labour market. However, we still have a long way to go.
‘We therefore need an active gender equality policy that ensures a good balance between work, family and leisure, for both men and women,’ she says.

What concretely needs to be done in order to achieve gender equality in the labour market and the workplace?
‘First of all, we need to agree that gender equality in the labour market is the ultimate goal. In order to reach this goal, we need to promote gender equality in the family domain, with a gender-equal distribution of work and care responsibilities. We need a family policy that promotes gender equality at home. In addition, businesses need to integrate a gender equality perspective in their recruitment and career development work. And they need to expand their thinking when assessing competence in a recruitment process,’ she says.

 Hanne Bjurstøm

Hanne Bjurstøm, Norway’s ombudsperson for discrimination and gender equality, agrees that the importance of the recruitment process cannot be overestimated on the path to gender equality in the labour market.

How can recruitment work contribute to gender equality?
‘A good recruitment process helps the employer hire the most qualified applicants, regardless of gender, functional variations and ethnicity. The most qualified person gets the job and vulnerable groups don’t risk being discriminated against. The employer must ensure a professional recruitment process that is based on non-biased assessments,’ says Hanne Bjurstøm.

As the national ombudsperson for discrimination and gender equality, which challenges do you see?
‘Research shows that people with a foreign-sounding name have a 25 per cent lower chance of being invited to a job interview in Norway. We know that not all people are treated equally in recruitment processes. When recruitments to a large extent depend on the gut feeling of those in charge of shortlisting job applicants, there is a great risk that irrelevant personal traits are given more attention than relevant qualifications. Good recruitment practices are blind to gender.

Focus on work

 Paulina de los Reyes

The importance of including an intersectional perspective on the labour market was another topic discussed at the conference. Paulina de los Reyes, professor of economic history at Stockholm University told the audience about her research during a session titled “Where in the Labour Market are the Immigrant Women?”
She stressed that we need to look beyond employment statistics when we discuss the labour market.
‘Sweden sees it as incredibly important that immigrants find employment. It’s seen as the key to integration.’

According to Paulina de los Reyes, this ambition makes us neglect what happens once a person is working. Like salary differences, what the work environment and the person’s opportunities to combine work and family life look like, and whether there is discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
‘By focusing solely on the number of people who have a job, we risk missing these important aspects. We may not see that the Swedish labour market is segregated.’

Paulina de los Reyes points out that although two persons might work under the same roof, they often face entirely different conditions. An intersectional perspective enables us to identify how factors such as class, age, ethnicity and gender may imply different challenges for different people.

‘There are preconceptions that push racialised women into roles they are expected to accept. These roles often come with worse conditions than those enjoyed by the majority. An intersectional perspective helps us see how this categorisation affects workplace hierarchies and the opportunity for staff to develop their full potential. In order to achieve equality in the workplace and the labour market, we need to be able to see the entire person,’ says Paulina de los Reyes.

Updated 23 January 2020