I’ve been in Australia for the better part of a month now (which I know is not long) and whenever I tell someone I’m from Finland, they start praising how the Nordics do everything better. Yes, it is true that things are pretty great up north, and yes there are countless articles that state how Australia needs to replicate the way Nordic countries do life, so I decided to take a real look into it to see if the Nordics really do it better.
Let’s start with the easiest one: Education.
It’s pretty easy to say that we’ve beaten you guys on that front. In Finland we have an excellent education system which is free for everyone. All socioeconomic backgrounds attend the same schools, receive the same education and the term ‘private school’ is basically unheard of. The level of education may vary in terms of where you live, but the curriculum is basically the same in all schools. Higher level education is also free of charge, which means that no matter how dire your financial state is, you still have the same chances of receiving an accredited education in the field of your choice as someone who comes from a wealthier background. I know that it is easier for someone from a wealthy background to pursue their educational and professional aspirations, as they don’t necessarily have to worry about making ends meet, but in Finland money is not the fundamental requirement for success.
So, the educational equality makes it 1-0 in favour of the Nordics.
The next one might be a bit trickier, let’s talk about: women in the workplace.
A couple of years ago The Economist conducted a study that showed the countries where “women are most likely to be treated equally at work, based on the labour-force participation rate, the wage gap, the proportion of women in senior jobs and child care cost compared to wages, among other factors”. New Zealand topped this list, and in fifth place came Australia, behind Norway, Sweden and Canada; ranking higher than Finland, Denmark and Iceland. So, although Finland have a lot of women in torch-baring positions, the Economist suggests that women still have a long way to go saying “visit a typical Nordic company headquarters and you will notice something striking among the standing desks and modernist furniture: the senior managers are still mostly men, and most of the women are PAs.”
As Australia places higher on the list than three of five infamous female-friendly countries, I will take the liberty of calling this a win for OZ, so that makes it 1-1.
The subject of women in the workplace provides the segue to our next topic: parental leave.
In Finland women are entitled to maternity leave of 105 working days. The amount of money you are paid by the government is dependant on how much you’ve earned the year before and the more you’ve earned, the more you get. In addition to the maternity leave pay received from the government most people receive their salary from their employer. This is not enforced by the government, but instead, based on the collective agreements between the unions and industries as a whole. So similar to Australia, companies are not required to pay for maternity leave in Finland but thanks to the strong position of the unions it is more often than not that mothers receive both maternity pay and their salary during their maternity leave. The difference to the Australian maternity leave scheme is that everyone in Finland is entitled to the government’s maternity pay. There is no means test applied. For example, a flight attendant will receive her full salary for three months after which the 105 days of government pay kicks in which is a percentage of her previous salary. Fathers are also able take parental leave for a period of 54 days. Both parents are able (individually) after their respective parental leave ends, to take what is called caretaker leave. Parents can be on caretaker leave until the youngest child turns three. During this time employers are not allowed to terminate an employee’s contract of employment.
So it seems like it is easier to have a child in Finland just in terms of the financials — and in addition to this day care is also included in the free educational system which does make a huge financial difference.
This takes the score to 2-1 for the Nordics.
Even if it seems financially easier to have a child in the Nordics, women in Nordic countries face somewhat the same stigma and fears that Australian women have when taking maternity leave. While Australian women fear their career will be put on hold or even hindered after having children, unfortunately, so do Nordic women.
There are many complex reasons as to why this is a problem in a country with many benefits to women and families. The Economist suggests that due to the great financial aid available to women after having children, their time out of work tends to hinder their return, stating “generous maternity leave encourages them to take long breaks to raise children earlier on, when male competitors are gaining valuable experience.”
The Economist also states that due to domestic work being more expensive to outsource compared to here in Australia, women find they are burdened with the complete up-keep of the home and errands while looking after children, hindering their decisions and feelings about returning to work.
It’s easy to see where our respective countries are excelling, and where they both need to do some work. The one thing both Australia and the Nordics have in common is they are yet to create a workplace environment where women (and men) genuinely do not fear their careers will suffer if they decide to start a family.
Being around the A-HA environment I’ve been able to experience the magic that is diversity and inclusion: It’s more than gender and race, it’s about humans. I sincerely believe if we can truly understand that businesses are made up of humans, not numbers, then we are in for significant changes, for both our countries.
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1. Khazan O. (2013) The Countries Where Women Have the Best Lives, in Charts. The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/03/the-countries-where-women-have-the-best-lives-in-charts/273848/
4. Urwin, P., Parry, E., Dodds, I., Karuk, V., & David, A. (2013). The Business Case for Equality and Diversity: a survey of the academic literature (BIS OCCASIONAL PAPER NO. 4). Department for Business Innovation & Skills & Government Equalities Office.