These topics spark intense discussions that often bring out valid debaters with solid points and condescending trolls alike. So much so that The Local actually created a resource – The definitive guide to diversity in Sweden – dedicated to furthering these complex discussions, and the Swedish government created a “myth-busting” website to answer, or rather debunk, widely held prejudiced views about diversity in Sweden.
Let’s face it. Sweden has evolved past stereotypes of blondes, Ikea, Abba, and Volvo that have defined the country for decades.
While these idealized icons are still integral to its historical core, Sweden is changing and will continue to do so rapidly.
A quick glance down topics on that diversity guide and you’ll see just how complicated and conflicting issues surrounding diversity are – from studies praising Sweden’s integration policies to articles showing just how far Sweden has to go in terms of integration.
“Sweden doesn't get everything right, but my experience has been positive,” shares Adrianne George Lind, 2012 Maishagalen Entrepreneur of the Year.
Lind runs several businesses that cater to women of colour and expatriates.
“The government has given me the opportunity to learn the language, and the process of setting up my own company was easy.”
Granted, Lind admits her Swede helped her with the paperwork which also harkens to another significant barrier for integration – learning the Swedish language itself as an adult.
“Without his help, it certainly would have been a huge task for me,” she notes.
Sweden is a richly diverse country with roughly 15% of its population having a foreign background, and the country is much more than Thai take-away kiosks and kebab pizza joints run by PhD holders and medical doctors that many would like to reduce its diversity to.
With a steady in-flux of highly skilled foreigners, Sweden has the potential to tap into this experienced workforce that can help lunge its economy and society further ahead.
According to Statistics Sweden (Statistiska Centralbyrån, SCB) which pretty much tracks everything that can be counted in Sweden - probably including how many college students like food brands Felix versus Findus - there were roughly 96,500 immigrants in 2011. It’s one thing having open arms when receiving immigrants.
It’s another thing directing those immigrants regardless of skill level and background into specific “boxes” to park their lives for decades once welcomed in.
The headlines are full of negative press, Lind notes, where immigrants are not doing well in the job market, but that story is being played out across the European Union (EU) and not just Sweden.
So before jumping to conclusions on certain aspects of Sweden’s diversity, here are five things I didn’t know – and maybe you didn’t as well.
Lola Akinmade Åkerström