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Diversity and Equality in Finland and the Impact of the IWWOF RY Community.

Priyanka Banerjee is the CEO and co-founder of BusinessWiz Oy, Diversity & Inclusion Expert and Secretary of the Board at IWWOF Ry, and the most passionate D&I activist and public speaker in Finland! In this article, we asked Priyanka to share her knowledge and opinion about the gender and race equality situation in Finland and to explain why D&I policies are important for a better future of the country. Furthermore, Priyanka talked about the International Working Women of Finland RY and their remarkable support of over 7000 members of the community.

Gender Equality in Finland

"Finland is one of the forerunners when it comes to gender equality. It was the first country in Europe to give voting rights to women, and the first country in the world to give all women and all men both the right to vote and the right to run for office.

We can see gender equality when it comes to early education, literacy rate, and higher studies. The employment rate of men and women is also quite equal in Finland. In 2020, the employment rate for men was 72.5 percent and for women, it was 70.7 percent, as per Statista record. The female employment rate in Finland is higher than the EU average of 67.3%.

However, education and employment in Finland are quite gender-segregated. As per the Finnish institute for health and welfare, gender-based differences are evident in educational institutions and work sectors. In 2019, the most male-dominated sectors were construction (91% men) and transportation & storage (80% men), while the most female-dominated sectors were health & social services (86% women) and education (68% women). This also leads to the gender pay gap, because most of the high earning sectors are male-dominated. The career development of men is also easier as compared to women. In 2019, the average earning of women in Finland was only 84 cents for every euro earned by men throughout the labor market. This pay gap also impacts the pensions for women, which is only 79 cents for every euro earned in pensions by their male counterparts.

In the workplace, the gender-segregation is quite visible along with the difficulties in career progression. We still see a glass ceiling for women when it comes to leadership roles. As per data from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women in Finland accounted for only 36.8 percent of all senior and middle management positions in companies, agencies, and organizations in 2019. The most recent gender equality barometer conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health suggested that two-thirds of women believe that men in Finland are in a more privileged position in society compared to women. Half of the Finnish men also felt this way. The survey of attitudes on gender suggests that only one-fifth of women and less than half of men believe there is gender equality in Finland. Therefore, saying that we have achieved complete gender equality is overkill.

On top of these statistics, the discussion around gender equality in Finland is very binary. We still don’t have enough data to show how non-binary genders, women of color, foreign-born women, or other underrepresented communities fare in our equality discussion. Intersectionality in gender equality discussion is often overlooked.

For example, according to ministry specialist Liisa Larja, in 2018 the employment rate among women born abroad was 55 percent, compared to 72 percent for women born in Finland. When we start looking at the statistics with an intersectional lens, the equality gap starts to widen. Defining the various intersectionalities and how it impacts the experiences of people in terms of equality is still to be achieved in Finland and other Nordic countries."

Why do we need D&I policies?

"Diversity and Inclusion are the basis for a people-centric workplace. We still see prejudice when hiring people from different backgrounds in Finnish companies. The overall labor market is still very homogenous. We have loads of researches now to prove that diverse teams perform better and are more innovative. However, diversity alone is not enough, having an inclusive workplace is essential to reap the benefits of diversity.

We are seeing a talent shortage in Finland and other Nordic countries, the overall population is aging, and to support the economic growth and the social structure of the country, we need to embrace a diverse workforce. However, we still see a huge brain drain and lack of retention of employees in the companies. One of the main reasons for it is not having an inclusive company culture.

Apart from the talent shortage or retention issues, we are in an innovation and attention economy today. This means that companies that are ahead in innovation and are able to attract the top talent will be the ones surviving in the coming decade. The labor market is now rapidly growing with Millenial and Gen Z population. In a recent Monster survey 2020, 83% of Gen Z candidates said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer. More and more employees are selecting their employers based on values and company culture.

We also see employees who feel that they belong in a workplace, are more engaged and productive. This is especially true for Millennials and Gen Zers, who are much more likely to be engaged in their organizations when they have an inclusive culture. 83% report being actively engaged when their organization fosters an inclusive work environment, versus 60% who report being actively engaged when their organization does not, according to Deloitte.

The COVID-19 pandemic worldwide has also shown societal disparities, with women and underrepresented communities being the most impacted by it. But it also showed, companies with an inclusive culture were better prepared to handle the changes and pivot during the pandemic. Going forward, the need for having a strong company culture during a crisis situation is reinforced.

These are just a few reasons why companies must adopt a broader look and work on building a more diverse and inclusive workplace. In the last five years, we have already seen a wider discussion on the topic within Finland, however, we are still lacking in taking necessary actions and investing resources in improving the culture within the companies. Fostering diversity and inclusion within companies is not just a good-to-have but a must-have."

About International Working Women of Finland RY (IWWOF)

"International Working Women of Finland Ry (or IWWOF, in short) is a community for women and non-binary individuals from different backgrounds and all walks of life. It was founded in August 2019 by Galith Nadbornik, who is now the Regional Vice President- Executive Program Nordic at Gartner. The need for the community came from a desire to network with like-minded women in Finland and soon it grew into something more spectacular. Currently, it is 7000 members strong group with individuals from over 71 different nationalities, educational backgrounds, professional expertise, ethnicities, identities, and so on. The growth of the group from 1 to 7000 members in mere two years, shows that there was a huge gap in peer support, career development, professional guidance, and networking for women (mostly from foreign backgrounds but also Finnish women).

As mentioned above, the equality discussion in Finland often overlooks the intersectionality among women and generalizes the experiences of a very diverse group of individuals. Foreign-born women are one of the most vulnerable groups in Finnish society (of course, the experiences vary based on educational backgrounds, ethnicities, linguistic skills, family support, economic conditions, etc.). With IWWOF we are trying to bridge this equality gap by working towards providing women with equal opportunities and leveling the playing ground in society. This includes developing their professional skills, providing peer support, mental wellbeing, improving their employability in the Finnish workforce, providing guidance for career development, and leveraging the strength of a community to empower each other. Along with working on individuals, we also work with companies, public sector players, and other NGOs or communities to foster inclusion in society and break the existing glass ceilings in the labor market.

We have been very active in making our voices heard and changing the narrative of internationals or immigrants in Finnish society. However, we ourselves are faced with prejudice and challenges when working towards a more equal society, which enforces the need for such a community and a network of incredibly talented like-minded individuals.

The group as of now is only for women and non-binary individuals because we wanted to provide a safe space for our members to openly share their experiences, challenges, vulnerabilities, success, and failures. We want to have an empowering community where individuals are able to empathize, encourage and support each other when needed. Currently, we do not have any other platform especially for women as powerful as IWWOF, doing the same, and, therefore, we want to continue providing this space.

Within two years, we have achieved many things but the most important one is the wonderful community that we have managed to raise and nurture. We were able to create 200+events in two years with almost no funding (except for the Empower Wednesday program), and it was all possible because of the individuals who came together to make it all happen.

Our group has enabled multiple mentor-mentee pairs, provided internships and jobs to our members, supported small entrepreneurs, provided networking opportunities with companies, helped students, provided guidance & support to handle discrimination and harassment cases in the workplaces, encouraged well-being, impacted some policies, featured in media (not enough times though!) and so on. We also have managed to create a network of partners and sponsors in the last year to leverage a wider community and multiply our impact.

We recently won the Vuoden Kototeko (Integration Act Recognition) 2021 award from the Finnish Refugee Council. IWWOF was selected by the jury as an organization that has promoted an equal interaction between population groups, has encouraged encounters in everyday life, and strengthened the inclusion and involvement of different groups of people in society. This award has been the recognition of all the work we have done in the past two years and gives us more energy to continue doing our best.

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Author: Priyanka Banerjee

Photographer: Arina Lykova

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