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Sweden lagging behind in equality for women professionals

Sweden lagging behind in equality for women professionals

Published: 10 Nov 2009 14:06 GMT+01:00
Updated: 10 Nov 2009 14:06 GMT+01:00

Sweden's much-vaunted gender equality statistics do not stretch as far as the boardrooms of private companies, an area in which the country has fallen way off the international pace, argues Nima Sanandaji, president of the free market think tank Captus.

When searching for reforms to promote gender equality the world often turns north. The Scandinavian countries have more equality between men and women than most other societies. Women in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark were early in entering the labour market and have the highest political representation in the world. In Sweden women hold close to half of the seats and Finland is headed by a female president.

Of course, societies do not have blueprints for others to copy; gender roles depend as much on culture and history as on economic policy. Furthermore, the results of the policies followed by the Scandinavian welfare states are not as clear cut as many believe. It seems that rather than simply increasing gender equality, the welfare state transfers women's positions between sectors in society.

The success of women in the public sector is brought about at the cost of lagging behind in the private sector. When it comes to female managers, entrepreneurs and high achieving professionals, Scandinavia has not matched the impressive new trends in the US. For example, the percentage of managers in the private sector that are women is between 11–18 percent for the Scandinavian nations, compared to 38 percent in the US.

It is more common for Scandinavian women to participate in the labour market compared to American women. The high tax burden in Scandinavia creates a situation where few families can rely on a single income. However, the difference is due to the large number of women working part time. The percentage of women actually working full time is the same or somewhat higher in the US. The probability of having a successful private sector career is, as may surprise many both in Scandinavia and in the US, markedly higher in the US than in the Nordic countries.

In major metropolitan areas in the US, such as New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago, young women have not only broken the glass ceiling, but in fact outearn men by up to 20 percent in average salary. One third of American women in the workforce outearn their husbands. Amongst unmarried people without kids above the age of 40, women earn considerably more then men.

Such successes are however not evident in Scandinavian nations, since a great share of women active in the labour market tend to work for the public sector. The possibilities for career development are limited in public sector jobs compared to the private sector. Also, wages are considerably lower. The dependence in public sector employment stifles women's opportunities, not least for those with a higher degree of education.

The OECD calculates the net present value of obtaining a tertiary degree of education level in various countries. In the US this value is $75,000 for the average woman. In Sweden only $5,000 – the second lowest amongst the industrial nations included in the study after France, another nation where many women work in the public sector.

Government monopolies also stifle entrepreneurship. As a consequence, Scandinavian nations, especially Sweden and Denmark, are among the bottom countries when it comes to women's share of entrepreneurs.

The need to fund large public sectors has led to exorbitant tax wedges on services; up to 75 percent. Thus, it is difficult for professional women to buy household services and free up time for careers. Another effect of tax and transfer programmes is that both the need and the ability to accumulate personal savings are reduced. This helps explain why Scandinavian women have far smaller saving than their American counterparts, both in absolute terms and as share of national assets.

Policy makers in Nordic countries have for years attempted to increase the number of managers and female entrepreneurs in the private sector, with relatively little success. In Sweden, the share of companies run by women has in fact decreased during the past 20 years. Recently the Norwegian government decided to force publicly listed firms to have at least 40 percent female board members or face liquidation.

The 40 percent goal has been hailed in international media as a success, but few have reported the problems created for Norwegian companies. In part because the welfare system reduced the number of career women in the private sector, it has not proven easy to fill the board seats. Norwegian firms desperately attempt to find female board members, going so far as actively recruiting women from neighbouring countries to fill the quotas.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that the law in many cases resulted in firms filling their seats with politicians, in many cases those very politicians who pushed the quota legislation to begin with. There is no tangible evidence that the rent seeking board quotas have had any beneficial effects for Norwegian women in general.

Scandinavian cultures have for long been famous for their general egalitarianism and for their equality between the sexes. But it becomes increasingly clear that the opportunities of women in the private business sector are stifled by welfare policies and government monopolies.

Nima Sanandaji is the president of the Swedish think tank Captus. He has recently published a book on women's career opportunities and female entrepreneurship. The book, which is in Swedish, can be purchased here.

Nima Sanandaji (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

20:06 November 10, 2009 by Nemesis
This is one of the few negative things I have noticed about Sweden.

Regarding CEO's women CEO's are virtually unknown in Sweden.

This needs to be tackled immediately.
00:53 November 11, 2009 by Osokin
Haha, not really. This piece of news is one lie after the other, pure propaganda. When will we see women working outdoors as much as men too ? Ludicrous.
04:12 November 11, 2009 by xenyasai
I think we need to stop focusing on the gender. We need to understand we'll never ever have a gender equal society. If you start to nitpick you will find jobs that have more women than men, but you don't hear men complaining about that, do we? Jobs where the majority is men women seem to always want or at least claim they can do better or equally good.

Instead of looking at gender, look at which individual who is better suited for that certain job.

I can also add that the extreme-feminists aren't helping Swedish woman, or women in general, at all. They are actually creating a larger gap between men and women.
13:36 November 11, 2009 by Nemesis
@ Osokin and xenyasai,

You are talking nonsense.

Women in Sweden do work outdoors. I have a friend who works on building sites and is able to juggle married life and three children. Yesterday I was talking to a woman laying paving slabs outside my partment about doing some renovation work in my apartment.

The article is not propaganda. You may prefer an all male enviroment and that is your choice, but do not impose it on us women against our will.

At CEO and director level in Sweden there is a very real porblem with a severe lack of women in those positions. That barriers to women obtaining those positions on merit, need to be removed.
18:03 November 11, 2009 by calebian22
Yes, quotas will fix everything (sarcasm). Forget merit, skill and the judgement of board members in a successful company to choose the right person for the job.
18:40 November 11, 2009 by krigeren
@ Nemesis

While you may be correct it up to women to claw their way to the top. I am an immigrant to Sweden and I am in the same boat, very few if any immigrants as CEO's (unless it is their own company).

No amount of government involvement or legislation will make life fair either for women, immigrants, or anyone else who is not "equal" in some category although their potential to be equal is there.

Maybe more women should start their own companies and play by their rules rather than trying to climb to the top in a male dominated company. As an immigrant we have to use the same tactics to make it up the food chain here because we will generally hit a ceiling within a Swedish company rather quickly.

Good luck to you,

Krigeren
19:07 November 11, 2009 by Nemesis
@ krigeren,

I know where you are coming from. It is always harder for immigrants, no matter what country it is.

The issue of women in the boardroom in Sweden is a serious issue. In most companies in Sweden it is blatant sexism. They can dress it up in whatever manner they wish it is blatant sexism. In the case of immigrants, it is racism. It is the same in Ireland, if not actually worse.

As both an immigrant and a woman I intend to start my own company in the middle of next year as I have given up trying to get advancement. I have most of the pieces in place and just some final touches to get sorted out.

Good luck to you as well. I hope you are sucessful.

Andrea
21:03 November 11, 2009 by entry
Women are also underrepresented in the prison system. What are we to do?

Gender should not be a factor in determining advancement. An individual has to be able to interact and demonstrate the ability to lead individuals of both sexes in order to advance. That is just common sense.

Occupying an office chair for the same number of years as the person next to you does not make you as good as the next person. Only your demonstrated ability and the value of your productivity should matter in your compensation and advancement. That said, the value of individual productivity and individual potential seem to always be missing in the metrics that are used to compare various positions with regard to gender.

An individual who cannot gain the respect of their coworkers and convince their own company management of their own leadership abilities has little chance of swaying major customers or managing stockholders' expectations as a CEO. If members of the opposite sex or even of your own sex do not take you seriously in your own company how are the individuals that you contact outside of your company on it's behalf going to think of you? How does this effect the company's bottom line? Individual cases are unique. As many of us know there are bitter people that are quick to complain that they have been passed over due to discrimination when we know that more often than not it has been done due to individual performance. At the same time we also know that there are some genuine cases that involve bias.

SVT a year or two ago was covering gender equality with regards to nurses which has both male & female workers. They were reporting complaints on the basis of gender inequality when comparing the compensation of doctors; a group dominated by male workers. with the compensation of nurses. The comparison was absurd. The general reports stating the number of males and females in one occupation or another or even level of management do not necessarily indicate bias.

Gender bias does happen, and when it does it should be confronted. whether it happens to an individual at a place of work or when it appears in a meaningless report on alleged gender bias in the article above.
22:28 November 11, 2009 by Nemesis
@ entry,

Please stop talking nonsense.

In Sweden women are not getting high positions, even though they deserve them on merit.

That is what the problem is.
23:27 November 11, 2009 by entry
Neither the article nor you yourself have presented evidence that a woman or a group of women had been discriminated on the basis of their gender and not been permitted to advance.
08:16 November 12, 2009 by krigeren
Best of luck to you. If you ever need anyone to bounce ideas off of let me know. My advice is free but remember you get what you pay for ;-)
08:53 November 12, 2009 by Nemesis
@ krigeren

Thanks:)
09:52 November 12, 2009 by Osokin
stop feeding the giant, deranged troll who knows better than anyone about everything and makes of each thread a personal matter
18:31 November 12, 2009 by mkvgtired
Is this proof that when the government keeps their hands off of things people are actually more "equal"** than with enormous amounts of government oversight? The article mentioned it is easier for women to move up in private industry. I would like to add that this is the case for any underrepresented group. Companies want to pick the best person for the job, regardless of race, religion, or sex. We need to get rid of these ridiculous rules and laws that apply to private industry hiring. Regardless of if the best person for the job is a white male, or a Somalian hermaphrodite, the best person for the job in this setting will be more likely to get it.

**My definition of equal is equal access to opportunities, not equal income.
10:23 November 13, 2009 by DAVID T
It's well known that women are not as smart as men - that's why they don't get promoted. Also they are generally in a bad mood for one week a month they'll have kids and expect to keep their jobs after taking 2 years off. We shold look to the past were women should look after the home and the man goes out to work.
12:54 November 13, 2009 by Nemesis
@ DAVID T, mkvgtired and entry

Your need to live in a male only world which is full of manly men, is noted.

For your information if you are actually capable of comprehending it, which you most likely are not.

women are as smart as men if not smarter,

women are equal to men,

women can do the same jobs as men,

If you think otherwise, find yourself a colony where only men are allowed and stay there. You can then enjoy your roman / spartan men only lifestyle choice, as much as you like.

In Sweden people are trying to address the imbalances in the system due to sexism at the upper echolons of business.

No one needs people like you in Sweden.

Actually we don't need people like you anywhere in Europe.

Since you hate Sweden and Swedish ideas so much.

Sell your belongings at blocket.se

Sell your home at hemnet.se

Book a flight out of Sweden and Europe at flysas.com

I hope you find your men only society somewhere, so that you can be happy the rest of your men only lives. You might want to try Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, USA or Dubai.

I hope that information is useful to you in your men only search.

Bye bye.
13:26 November 13, 2009 by spy
Nemesis

It is a fact that MEN AND WOMEN ARE EQUAL in everything but brains and brawn... And you are proof of the brains part.
15:55 November 13, 2009 by slsilund
Sure, Spy.

But one is almost missing in men and the other in women.

Any other comment?
17:14 November 13, 2009 by entry
@Nemesis

It is obvious that you didn't even bother to read beyond the headline of the article. Instead you have found a blank space where you can once again ramble on and on.

Unlike you who seem to be fixated on sexism, the writer of the article feels that the pool of possible female candidates for higher management positions and opportunities of an entrepreneurial nature has been limited by Sweden's women flocking to public sector positions. Get over yourself Nemesis.
18:19 November 13, 2009 by mkvgtired
Nemesis, as I stated in my post I am very used to women holding positions above me (I have worked for many). As I stated if given the chance to compete on merit WOMEN will be promoted more often than with strict structures in place. Did you not read the article or my post? I said that the best person should get the job. Very often that is a woman. The article also states this.

Please reread my post before you try to state I want to live in a male-only society. The article stated that government attempts to adress sexism do not work as well as when women are allowed to compete on an even level with men, and I wholeheartedly agree. Please dont include the USA in your list of "men only" societies. As the article states in many population centers here women earn more on average then men. There are also more female executives here as a percentage. Since that is the case maybe you should add Sweden to the list of the "men only" socities and remove the USA.
00:35 November 14, 2009 by Shawn77
No point in talking sense to people like Nemesis. They are blinded by femenist and refuse to listen to any kind of reason.

Notice how she constantly is telling other people they speak nonsense, but in many cases doesnt say why. It is not femenism so it must be nonsense.

Also notice the comment:

women are as smart as men if not smarter.

Typical statement of a swedish femenists who proclaim that they are for equality but where in fact they are female supremacist.

I have lived and worked in Sweden for almost all my life and I have seen many different cultures and swedish women are among the most lazy and self serving I have seen. They expect to have things served to them just because they are women.

That is why US women are much more successful in many areas. They actually have to get ahead on the basis of merits rather than their gender.
03:54 November 14, 2009 by lulusage
I applaud Sweden for it's progressiveness in all areas, especially with gender. I also am not doubting the information reported on in the article about the lack of women in Sweden getting ahead in the public sector, I'm simply saying don't even bother to use the US as a model of comparison because the US is a shame in gender equality.

Having lived my entire life in the US I can assure you that the facts presented are incorrect. There is no way that the US has any advantage for women over Sweden - no way!

I can believe that there are more women managers in the US than in Sweden. However, let's keep that in perspective for a moment. What does it mean to be a manager? The US has seen a trend towards renaming job titles such that there may be a department of ten people with a team lead, supervisor, manager, and a director - hmm who are the workers then? In a nutshell being a manager doesn't mean much here in terms of pay or respect.

We need to ask what a successful private sector career entails. What exactly does that mean? Is it equal pay? Is it better pay? Respect? I can tell you that it's not in most all of the cases.

Having worked here my entire life, women are certainly under the glass ceiling. The pay we make here in the US is 80% of what men make for doing the exact same job at the exact same company. I've worked in payroll and I've seen it over and over again. Of those women reported as earning more than men, yes it happens but it's rare. Also, what do those women do for a living compared to their men? They are most likely way more educated (of which we have to pay for entirely ourselves here) and work at a more demanding job.

Let's not get started on the high taxes in Sweden vs the US. Basically, our taxes are much lower because we don't get crap. There are over 40 million Americans who are uninsured and work full time jobs. Even for those of us who are insured, we still have to pay for much of the costs and the care is quite limited. I'd happily pay higher taxes to have the services that are offered in Sweden, it's actually cheaper in the long run.

For anyone doubting this, do some research and see for yourself. Subjects to check on ; the maternity leave (lack of) paternity leave (too bad, men don't get time with their babies), vacation and sick policy, work hours including overtime without pay. Also, study the public sector org chart and you'll see where the women are, in the low paid overworked departments with snazzy job titles such as "Manager" and "Director". Also, check out the representation by women in US government, it's quite sad.

In other words, Women aren't getting ahead in the US versus Sweden, oh please! It's all relative until one takes the time to actually compare data and fully understand it beyond the buzz words.
05:56 November 15, 2009 by American Avenger
And think I thought this was a serious article, but no just some more "Feminist" nonsense.

Ok lets start with a joke!

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: 100. One to change it, and 99 to wring their hands and agonize about how oppressed the socket is.

LOL!

Ok well I'm going to ignore the fact that the term "Welfare State" in the US is more or less a Pejorative used for low life government agents looking for an opportunity to screw the public and hand out free money to lazy people.

But common since here would be if Sweden would choose to abandon outcome based policies.

But WAITE!

That would pretty much rule out the whole Feminist BS altogether would it not.

Sweden should get relevant and start worrying about people that are really oppressed, and not the >>make believe oppression of women.
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