Womenís specific situation in Finland
In Finland, women's labour force participation has traditionally been high, and today it is almost identical with that of men. In general, women form about 45% of the wage-earning population of the EU countries; even higher percentages are found in Finland (52%), France (51%), Sweden (50%) and Denmark (48%).
There are many reasons for this increase: the recognition of women's high level of education, the wish for autonomy, and the necessity of a double income. However, women still face problems at work when striving for the same status as men (the "glass ceiling"), and they are still overwhelmingly responsible for the family and domestic duties.
Part-time work has never been widespread in Finland. In 1997, 11% of female wage earners and 5% of male wage earners did part-time. It is a common belief that working part-time lowers not only annual income but also social security and pensions.
In Finland, in 1995 women accounted for 25% of those in managerial positions in the private business world. The percentage of women directors in state-majority companies was 23. The only sector with more women than men managers (64%) were boarding and catering business, and the only managerial group where women (57%) outnumbered men was human resource managers. In the public sector, an increasing number of the highest-ranking officials are women; in 1995 the percentage was 32. It seems that women have a slightly better chance of acceding to leading positions in the public than in the private sector.
The gender segregation of Finnish work life is strong and it extends both across and within occupations. Women's jobs are characterised by elements of caring, nurturing and supportive roles, while men monopolise the heavy manual, technical and managerial tasks. Compared to the so-called overall segregation rate, occupational segregation by gender is at very high level in Finland and in other Nordic countries: 60% of working women are in professions where womenís share of employees is 80% or more. One explanation for this may be the extensive welfare services in the Nordic countries. Occupational segregation by gender tends to be persistent and renew itself.
The boom in information technology (IT) in Finland has widened the gender gap in education and working life. Starting in the upper level of comprehensive school, IT is an optional subject chosen mostly by boys. Boys are over-represented in IT and related classes in upper secondary school and at vocational training institutes. This gender-related difference in education may have far-reaching implications on tomorrow-s labour markets: those with a good command of IT have a better choice of jobs than those who have received littler or no such training.
There is a gap between women and men when it comes to training and work tasks. According to statistics, more often than men, women have the opportunity to use a computer at work. Despite this, women tend to feel that the computer skills learned at work are rather limited.
Information technology (IT) has an increasingly important place in training, education and working life. Nowadays more and more women are employed in the media, communications and IT sectors. Nonetheless, women still find it harder than men to accede to positions of authority. The new, high-status professions in information technology are typically male-dominated.
Throughout the 1990s, womenís average wages from regular work have been 81% of menís corresponding wages. The wage differences can be explain partly by the strong gender segregation prevailing on the labour market and by the fact that woman-dominated fields are valued less highly. The principle of equal pay is furthered through positive measures, and there should be an increase in measures promoting womenís career prospects.
Unlike the situation in many other countries, more men than women have been touched by unemployment in Finland. Although womenís unemployment rate since 1996 has slightly exceeded menís, the gap is very small compared to other countries.
About one third of Finnish entrepreneurs are women. Women have established businesses in such traditional womenís fields as the retail trade, person-to-person services and the catering and boarding business, but have also started providing services to the business community. The increase has been marked also in the information sector. These include ADP, advertising, marketing and communication services. An estimated one third of Finnish companies are owned by women, and about 72% of these companies are in the service sector. Starting a business interests especially women in their middle years. Women planning to set up their own business are highly educated; 42% have an academic degree, and 40% have a degree from an AMK institute or college.
In order for equality to become a reality, men and women must be given equal opportunities to participate in political decision-making and working life. In Finland this is furthered through the day-care system, services for the elderly, and provision of school meals.
Although a growing number of mothers of small children are working outside the home in Finland, the mothers are free to stay at home to look after their children and receive financial support as an alternative to their subjective right to take their children to a local day-care centre.
In Finland a relatively low percentage of employed women with children have part-time work, whereas in most other EU countries it seems to be difficult for employed women to combine full-time working with raising a family.
The fact that the birth rate has remained fairly high in Finland testifies to the efficiency of the small childrenís day care system in Finland. In contrast, the traditionally high birth rates in Southern European countries, where less attention has been paid for example to the public care system, have fallen bellow the rates in the Nordic countries. However, the overall birth rate is declining in Finland as it is elsewhere in Europe.
Much has been done to involve men in child care. So far only little success has been achieved. It is encouraging, however, that fathers have started to participate actively in childbirth training, and that already over half of all fathers take paternity leave. Special measures are needed to increase the popularity of parental leaves among fathers.
Gender equality as an aim
According to a study on gender equality at work showed that Finnish companies expect a great deal from gender equality at work and consider it to improve job satisfaction, reduce conflicts at work and enhance the company image, particularly if the majority of their customers are women. Serious attempts have been made to curb the gaps between men's and women's jobs, by offering job rotation and attitude training. However, in reality, equality has progressed with agonising slowness.
The role of gender equality should be viewed more broadly. Equality is more than the prevention of discrimination. The aim is to give equality the status of positive right that respects womenís and menís differences and the richness of their nature.
Gender-based discrimination on the labour market was prohibited in connection with the reform of labour offence legislation in 1995. The Equality Ombudsman receives annually about 200 requests for an opinion in cases of suspected gender-based discrimination.
In Finland, every employer with at least 30 employees must draw up an annual plan for the promotion of equality. It is up to the employer to create efficient measures to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace. Equality plans should be observed when recruiting and placing persons and when deciding on their career development and remuneration. A few big companies in the communication business have already realised the positive effect of equality planning.
Mainstreaming aims at creating a political and administrative culture where equality principles are put into practice. This process is still in its infancy in Finland as well as in the most EU member states. Promoting equality between women and men was included as the so-called Fourth Pillar into the European Communityís employment guidelines in 1997. In December 1998 the Vienna European Council extended this principle to cover all pillars related to employment guidelines. In Finland, the principles of equality mainsteraming are incorporated into the national employment programmes prepared in 1999.