I’m speaking on behalf of the employers’ confederations of all the Nordic countries: Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. We would like to thank the Director General for this year’s report on the Women at Work Initiative. We note with delight that gender equality remains one of the priorities of the ILO.
We the Nordic employers are fully committed to equal rights and equality of opportunities irrespective of gender. A diverse and gender balanced labour market provides companies with the workforce they need to prosper. We know that talent and skills are gender neutral. As economies with relatively small populations, the Nordic countries learned from early on to tap into a labour market with a high rate of participation of both women and men. Over the years this had led to a boost of economic growth in our countries.
Indeed, the Nordic countries are often championed as leaders on gender equality. According to the OECD, in the Nordic countries almost three in every four working-age women are in paid employment and the gender employment gap is among the smallest in the world. However, this doesn’t mean things couldn’t be better. Let me focus on this with a few points.
One of the challenges is how the remaining difference in the labour force participation rate for men and women can be evened out. The solution could be found in inclusive policies and right incentives. In the first place, child care needs to be available at a reasonable cost. Also, family leave policies should be aimed at encouraging parents to share the responsibility of household work and caring for children. It should be noted, though, that more and longer family leaves are not an optimal solution. Long-time absence from work can undermine the employability of the person taking the leave.
Employers can do their part too: child friendly policies at the workplace, flexible working time arrangements and the availability of part time work make companies attractive employers for workers who have to juggle family responsibilities and work. But these kinds of responses have their limits. In the end and to a large extent, the role of men and women in working life is determined by the choices individuals and families make. These are influenced by the values that people have. It is obvious that an equal working life requires an equal life outside the workplace.
We acknowledge that there exist disparities between the share of women and men working in different sectors. Of course, we all know that there are no men’s jobs or women’s jobs. However, traditional preconceptions are deeply seated. Men and women still make differing career and educational choices which, unfortunately, are reflected in different outcomes in earnings and career development later in life. The Nordic employers take this issue very seriously. For example, initiatives have been launched in Norway and Finland to address gender imbalances specifically in the technology sector. We also invite the ILO and its constituents to come up with proposals.
Looking forward into the future, we hope that gender equality will not be viewed solely as a women’s issue, but a joint effort. In our countries, young women make up the clear majority in many fields of tertiary education and are growing into leadership roles. Quite often it’s the young men who are being left to the margins without education and work. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t lose sight of the particular obstacles women are facing.
To conclude, a labour market where the full potential of both women and men is allowed to flourish contributes to a sense of fairness, inclusiveness and trust – and these qualities are often seen as the strong points of our societies. We support the Director General in his call for push for equality.