The five principles followed by Stockholm’s most gender-equal companies

The Nordics are often lauded for their commitment to gender equality. The City of Stockholm in particular has taken a uniquely proactive approach to improving gender equality in the workplace.

The five principles followed by Stockholm’s most gender-equal companies
Photo: Bannerboy

The tech community has long struggled with gender parity. Under 30 percent of tech workers are women despite the proven economic advantages of gender equality. It’s why, on March 8th, 2018, Stockholm – which was once dubbed 'the tech capital of Europe' – launched an initiative to help businesses stamp out equality problems and create more female-friendly organisations.

Since its launch, over 100 companies have joined the ‘A Woman’s Place’ initiative. One such company is Bannerboy, a Swedish production agency founded in 2010. This relatively young company has undergone rapid expansion over the last few years, taking on big name clients such as Spotify and Duracell and establishing a global presence with offices in Stockholm, New York, Amsterdam and soon, Los Angeles.

By comparison, IT-consultancy company, Netlight, founded in 1999, is a veteran of the tech industry. Their strides towards gender equality have been ongoing for the past decade; their most recent measure has been to declare as ‘A Woman’s Place’, reaffirming their commitment to equality.

Discover ways to make your company more gender equal

Photo: Abel Buko

The Local met with Abel Buko, Bannerboy’s culture director, and Sara Frisk, a consultant at Netlight, to find out how their companies have been using the ‘Gender Equality Toolbox’, an online resource of five guiding principles, articles, podcasts and on-hand experts to help companies of all sizes increase gender equality.

‘A place where women are free to fulfil their professional potential’

Abel joined the Bannerboy team four years ago but says his role in the company evolved in response to the need for greater gender equality.

“When I first started in the company I was a producer and then when the company expanded there became a need to make sure that our culture grew with the company, so my title switched to being the culture director two years ago.”

Photo: Bannerboy 

After discovering the ‘A Woman’s Place’ initiative at the Austin, Texas-based festival, South by Southwest in 2018, Abel was certain it was exactly what Bannerboy needed.

“At the time, we had three women out of 30 employees. Recruitment was the first thing we really thought about because that was our biggest problem. We only had 10 percent women, which doesn’t make any sense because obviously women know how to program. They’re out there, they just weren’t here,” he recalls.

Abel, a former women’s studies student, understood the importance of gender equality but didn't know how to implement policies promoting it at Bannerboy. Although he had a theoretical understanding, he had none of the practical knowhow. It's where the toolbox really came into play. Using the resources, he was able to create a plan to make the job adverts more attractive to women.

“I’d had the academic background but none of the practicality of what it is about a company that makes it uninviting for women to apply, so I needed a toolkit and people to talk to.”

'A place where women and men have equal access to resources, knowledge and networks'

Over the past decade, Netlight has been actively initiating events and networks promoting the sharing of knowledge and resources to level the playing field in the male-dominated tech industry.

Photo: Netlight's Sara Frisk

One example is TechEq, a cooperation between over 100 companies in Sweden, which strives for equal gender representation in the tech industry. Netlight also initiated a female tech network called ‘Code Pub’ which has become increasingly popular, with over 4000 members and 25 events across Europe in the last 12 months.

Find out more about Stockholm’s ‘A Woman’s Place’ initiative

“We arrange events where women can meet and talk about tech and be in an environment without feeling like they’re in the minority and as though they have to explain how they ended up in IT,” says Sara.

She adds that the company also started an initiative called ‘Purple Pill’ to get men involved in equality topics, even though it might not affect them directly.

“I think it’s very cool to be at a company where men take ownership over these questions and really believe that this is not only an issue for women.”

Photo: 'Purple Pill' at Netlight

'A place where women feel safe and free from sexual harassment'

Abel admits that Bannerboy’s track record of gender equality isn’t entirely clean.

“It was this assumed thing that of course we weren’t going to sexually harass each other and as a small company it just never dawned on us to have policies and procedures. Until we had an incident,” he says.

The company now has a strict procedure to respond to harassment and ensure new female recruits feel safe in all Bannerboy workplaces.

“We needed to start thinking about the fears that a woman might have when she enters the workplace because they’re really different from what a man thinks when he walks into a workplace,” he reflects.

'A place where women's and men's ideas and ambitions carry equal weight'

Photo: Netlight

Sara recalls being passionate about tech from an early age but it took her a long time to realise that women in her industry were underrepresented. She says that, outside of Netlight, she still notices that she is in the minority which can be jarring.

“The biggest challenge in my work life is when I feel that I don’t belong or when people approach me not expecting me to know about tech, the area in which I’ve spent my whole career. That happens a bit too often.”

Bannerboy has worked hard, drawing on learnings from the diversity toolbox, to ensure its female employees never feel this way. Abel explains they actively engage female team members so that their voices are heard both internally and in external communication.

“We have a job ad right now where we explicitly state that we want more women. The women of the company were asked to write a statement to put below the job ad explaining why it was important to us,” he says.

'A place where women and men have the same opportunities to combine work and private life'

“Last year we defined our six core values for the company and ‘Being Swedish’ was one of them. We look at how things are done here and roll them out in our other countries. Specifically, offering five weeks of vacation to an American is mindblowing,” Abel says proudly.

Photo: Bannerboy

A key example of this so-called ‘Swedishness’ is the parental leave policies both Netlight and Bannerboy have in place for their employees.

“We’ve looked into how fast women and men progressed in their careers both salary and challenge-wise and we have made improvements to our parental leave policies based on those findings,” says Sara.

Bannerboy is just weeks away from launching parental leave in their New York office and Abel says these Swedish values have strong pulling power for potential employees.

“It’s purely out of our pocket that we’re offering this. It’s a very strong selling point,” he concludes.

Invest Stockholm’s ‘Gender Equality Toolbox’ provides resources to help companies of all sizes practically increase gender equality. There you’ll find podcasts, articles, guiding principles and contact details for gender equality experts to help you create a working environment where both men and women are free to reach their professional potential.

Click here to discover ways to make your workplace A Woman’s Place

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Invest Stockholm.

For members


EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

The Swedish financial supervisory authority warned on Wednesday that rising interest rates could lead to house prices falling "quite sharply". How likely is it that this will happen?

EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

What financial circumstances might make it difficult for borrowers to repay loans?

With an increase in the cost of living, including rising interest rates and rising electricity prices, there are plenty of circumstances that may make it difficult for borrowers – especially those holding large debts in relation to their income – to repay their mortgages.

Households with large debts are therefore more sensitive to an increase in interest rates, according to the Swedish financial supervisory authority, known in Swedish as Finansinspektionen (FI).

The agency published its annual Swedish Mortgage Market report on Wednesday.

“Large debts also mean a higher sensitivity if you were to suffer unemployment during an extensive recession,” said Henrik Braconier, the authority’s chief economist.

Other factors that could stretch borrowers’ finances include rising energy prices, higher food prices, and growing inflation.

“Apples, oranges, tomatoes have gone up by 30 percent,” said Américo Fernández, a household economist at SEB. “Wheat is coming from Ukraine and it’s getting harder and harder to get hold of.”


Will homeowners become unable to repay their mortgage loans?

Not according to Fernández.

“One of the last things Swedish households will fail to make their payments on is their mortgage and their houses,” he said. “They would rather decrease their spending on vacations abroad, or restaurants.”

The FI report noted that most new mortgages include margins that allow for fluctuations in the borrower’s finances. This means that mortgage holders have a cushion that allows them to handle financial changes.

“Our stress test shows that they can handle increases in the interest rate and also loss of income,” said Magnus Karlsson, FI’s director of macroanalysis. “New mortgages have margins in them calculating discretionary income, and will be able to absorb increases in interest rates and loss of income.”

SEB foresees an interest rise of up to three percent over the next two years, Fernández said,an increase that can be absorbed by most households.

Both Fernández and Karlsson agreed that if homeowners have to cut back on spending, those cuts will not come from debt repayment, but from their disposable income – the money they might ordinarily spend on entertainment, eating out, or travelling.

So while household spending may have to change, financial stability is not at stake for most households.

What’s going on with the housing market?

Right now, a record number of mortgage-holders have loans that are worth more than 4.5 times their income. This year, more than 14 percent of new mortgagors took on such large loans, compared to 6.3 percent last year.

A “low interest rate, increase in housing prices, increase in disposable real income and a housing market that is not functioning well” are all factors in the large debts that homeowners have incurred today, Karlsson argued.

Fernández noted that there is an imbalance between the low supply of housing and the high demand for housing, which is in part responsible for the high housing prices we see today.

He said a decrease in price of a few percentage points would not be surprising: “We’re coming from two years of exaggerated prices.”

Will housing prices begin to decrease after two years of increasing prices?

Calculations for three different scenarios tested by FI show that housing prices will decrease, Karlsson said.

While the agency does not predict housing prices, its report shows that under three different scenarios – the first an increase in mortgage interest rate, the second an increase in energy prices, and the third a combination of the first two with a reversal to pre-pandemic housing preferences – prices will decrease.

The Local Sweden reported last year about increasing housing costs in Sweden, spurred on in part by a desire for bigger homes further away from urban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fernández called the two years of increasing housing costs “surprising.”

“10-12 percent two years in a row, that’s historical in these uncertain times,” he said, noting that prices were still increasing in figures for March this year.

What sorts of housing will see the largest price decrease?

The FI report also included various scenarios of how the price of different types of housing may fluctuate based on changes in the interest rate.

One scenario assumed a 1 percent increase in interest rates this year and a 0.5 percent increase next year, and predicted that while the price of apartments owned in a cooperative – called bostadsrätter – would fall only slightly, the price of detached houses would fall by 10 percent.

Another calculation that accounted for rising electricity prices and a decline in new housing purchases found that the price of bostadsrätter and detached houses risked falling by an average of 30 percent.

Is there a plan to let borrowers end their mortgage terms early?

“We believe it needs to be simpler and more inexpensive for households to repay their mortgages early,” FI Director General Erik Thedéen is quoted as saying in a press release published by the agency on Wednesday.

To that end, Thedéen said at a press conference that the agency had sent a request to the government to change the calculation model for how banks are compensated when mortgages are terminated early.

“When you terminate a loan agreement and the bank incurs costs, it must be reimbursed,” Thedéen said. “But at present the banks are overcompensated, that is what our calculations show. If the government follows our line and changes the model and follows our line, then the banks must simply adapt.”

When asked about the likelihood of this request being granted, FI recommended reaching out to the Ministry of Justice for comment.

What does this mean for foreigners in Sweden?

If you’re already a mortgage holder, then as Karlsson and Fernández assured, mortgage calculations include a cushion that allow for changes in your financial circumstances.

If homeownership is in your future, housing prices may begin to decrease in the near future, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your local real estate listings.

By Shandana Mufti