FAIR PAY IN SWEDEN
In Sweden, as in so many Scandinavian countries, everything seems to work much better than elsewhere. But what are things really like in the land of wooden chalets, elks and the Northern Lights? Are Swedish men and women paid more fairly? Annika von Redwitz, an expert on Sweden and diversity, has taken a closer look for us.
A guest article by Annika von Redwitz
When I tell people that I’m Swedish, I often hear responses from my German conversation partners such as: “Why did you emigrate – everything is so much better in Sweden!” or “In Sweden, things are much easier for women at work. Why are you here?” And if the topic is not equal opportunities, then it’s the nicest coffee breaks and the best cinnamon rolls.
But is it actually true that men and women in Sweden get an equal slice of the cake? Of course it’s lovely that everyone is so positive about my home country. I’ve been living in Germany for 30 years, have dual nationality, and would like Germany to also be a country where everyone likes to live and work because they have equal opportunities and are paid fairly, for example. In my experience, there are many things that work just as well in both Sweden and Germany. And of course, there is potential for improvement in both countries.
In terms of transparency and fair pay, I have to say Sweden has the edge. There are several reasons for that. To start with, a fundamental difference between the two countries is that the smallest social unit in Germany is the family. In Sweden, it’s the individual; each person is supposed to be able to look after themselves, whatever their family or relationship status. Or to put it another way, financial independence is culturally embedded in Sweden.
Setting the course for equality early on
Individual taxation was introduced in Sweden as early as 1971. This is one of several reasons why it has long been taken for granted that women and men earn their income. As a consequence, in 2019 the unadjusted gender pay gap in Sweden was 11.8 percent – a very good score in international comparison.
Plus, despite the high levels of employment, on average Swedish women have more children than German women do. In 2015, at 1.5 children per woman, the birth rate in Germany was below the EU average of 1.58, whilst Sweden held third place with 1.85, after France and Ireland.
Of course, not all women are mothers, and not all women can have children or want to have them. But a comparison of maternity-related salary losses shows how much less severely women are penalised for motherhood on the Swedish labour market than in Germany: “Whilst the annual salaries of mothers in Sweden are halved immediately after the birth of the first child, for women aged 40 or over, salaries are higher for mothers than for childless women. By their 45th birthday Swedish mothers of two children have generated just 11 percent less salaried income than women without children. In Germany, by the age of 45, mothers of two children have earned up to 42 percent less than childless women. (Sigle-Rushton & Waldfogel 2007).” (WSI Report no. 49, May 2019 (boeckler.de))
Transparency - the old normal
The foundations of greater gender equality were laid in Sweden at the beginning of the 1970s. But that’s not all: the Swedish population is used to transparency. At birth, all Swedish babies are given a 10-digit “personal ID number”. Over the course of your life, this has to be quoted for every financial transaction, but also when registering for school, when getting married, at the doctor’s, in fact all the time. The details are stored on the central server at the Swedish tax office, allowing people and companies to obtain detailed tax information about their neighbours on request. There’s nothing unusual about finding out what other people earn. This transparency heightens our awareness of unfairness, including pay differences between women and men. And fairness is highly valued. Since 2016, companies with over 25 employees have been required to submit a report every three years on the status of equality, fair pay and antidiscrimination. If differences emerge, these must be eliminated – otherwise, there are potential financial penalties.
A feminist government
When Sweden was the guest country at the Hanover Trade Fair in 2019, I took the opportunity to visit the Swedish pavilion. It was striking how many more female engineers and other female experts represented the exhibiting Swedish firms. And some of these women asked me, in bewilderment: “There are lots of men here at the trade fair, but where are the women?”
This is also an indication of how successful Swedish equality policy is in many respects. And it is clear that development in the area of equality has a direct effect on Sweden’s strong economic development. What’s more, “Since October 2014, Sweden has been the first country in the world to have a feminist foreign policy. This policy is based on many years of work towards equality and human rights in Sweden as well as internationally.”
Emigrating to Sweden?
It’s no wonder that many people dream of emigrating to Sweden, or have already done so. On the list of life satisfaction, Sweden holds second place as the preferred destination for German emigration. I love living in Germany and feel at home here – Germany has become my second home. That’s why I campaign for greater equality, fair pay, and equal opportunities. But if we want to attract new populations with the newly implemented Immigration Act for Skilled Workers – e.g. including highly-qualified women from the technical professions – then we must ensure greater compatibility and fair pay. It’s not only Swedish women who expect that.
In Sweden, children also have “cookery/domestic science” as a school subject, so all girls and boys learn how to cook and bake. So they don’t just get equal slices of the cake – they can even bake it themselves.
Annika von Redwitz, as a certified consultant for diversity management and as a business coach, helps companies and organizations define, plan and implement an appropriate diversity strategy. She has led international teams in the IT sector for over 25 years. As Project manager, she helped design the introduction and roll-out of the company-wide SAP diversity strategy in the global development organization. Born in Sweden, she has lived and worked in the German state of Baden-Württemberg since 1990.
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