(18.11.1999 - Kaisa Kauppinen*, Leenamaija Otala*) Over the last decades, the activity rate of women in paid work has increased throughout Europe and has been one of the major changes affecting our societies in general, and workplaces in particular.

In Finland, the activity rate of women has traditionally been high and today it is almost identical with that of men. Many reasons explain this increase: the recognition of women's high level of education, the wish for autonomy, and the necessity of a double income. 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.

The gender segregation of Finnish worklife 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. There is a risk for increased gender segregation.

"A more equal work organisation is our aim"

At the income policy talks, in autumn 1997, the labour market organisations agreed, inter alias, on the Equal Work Community research and development project. The project was carried out in close collaboration with the employers' and employees' central organisations. The point of departure was that both parties should benefit. The common belief was that an equal workplace would benefit both employers and employees alike.

Similar work is also being done in Sweden. The Swedish Minister of Equality brought forth the idea of an equality symbol to be used in the same way as the environment symbol.

Participating Work Organisation

Nine organisations participated in the project. They were both female-dominated and male-dominated, reflecting the high degree of gender segregation in Finnish worklife. The companies represented both traditional Finnish industrial sectors, e.g., paper mill and confectionery factory, as well as the new rapidly growing high-tech areas.

The project was aimed at creating a set of quality standards to promote equality at work. These could be used to measure the state of equality at the workplace and to uncover aspects requiring development. The aim was to see gender equality not merely as an ethical norm but as an economic concept on its own, as a factor of well-being, profitability and public image.

The data collection was based on qualitative and quantitative methods: expert interviews, dialogue workshops, and standard as well as open-ended questionnaires. The sample size for the questionnaire study was 521 (60% women).

Men are less concerned about gender issues than women

Women noticed more shortcomings in equality in the work organisations than did men. Disturbances in well-being, a strained work atmosphere, and conflicts at work were also cited. Men were less concerned about these issues than women.

It was quite common for women to consider their gender a disadvantage in at least some form. This disadvantage was felt to be greatest in pay, career advancement, and the fair distribution of the work load.

There were also incidences of sexual harassment, mostly in the form of verbal harassment. Altogether 24% of the women and 12% of the men were annoyed by dirty jokes and unwanted sexual comments at the workplace. As harassment significantly contributed to job dissatisfaction and stress, it is important to ensure a harassment-free workplace culture.

High Job Satisfaction

Regardless of the high degree of stress and competitive atmosphere in the workplaces, the majority of the men and women were satisfied with their work and felt competent at work. An important factor was the feeling that women and men had equal opportunities, and fairness in treatment prevailed.

Equality standards and exemplary questions to measure them

In each standard, equality is mainstreamed so that each question is evaluated according to equality.

Equality and its state

  • Is equality and staff well-being incorporated into human resources management?
  • Is equality inherent in the goals and strategy? of the work organisation?
  • How is equality perceived by the staff members?

Salary and remuneration policy

  • Is salary and remuneration policy based on equal treatment and fairness?
  • How openly are the bases for remuneration and bonuses presented and discussed? Do people feel that they are treated justly?

Career and work opportunities

  • Do people have equal career opportunities and equal opportunities for career advancement and life-long development in their work?

Common goals and opportunities for influence and control

  • Is everybody familiar with the common vision and common goals?
  • Does everybody have their own individual goals?

Workplace atmosphere and feeling of togetherness

  • Does the workplace culture support equality?
  • Is diversity seen as richness, or is the goal a homogenous staff?

Information flow and openness in information delivery

  • Does everybody have equal opportunities for information concerning his/her own work, and work unit, and future conditions and perspectives, also in economic terms?

Working conditions

  • Are the working conditions safe and ergonomically good?
  • Is age-management practised and older people given due attention?

Reconciling work and family life (private life)

  • Does everybody have an opportunity for private life outside work?
  • Is continuous overwork and over-commitment required and rewarded; is refusing from overwork being punished?
  • Is a personal life and family life valued, or is the family seen as a burden?
  • Are men being supported and rewarded, or discouraged and subtly punished for taking parental leave?

By further developing these standards, a comprehensive system can be formed.

* The writers are the authors of the study "Gender Equility, Work Organisation and Well-being: Equality Standards for a Good Workplace" (Helsinki, 1999)