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Survey study: More than one third of Finns have experienced inequality in working life

Age, a reduced work ability and ethnic background are viewed as the most significant reasons for unequal treatment in Finnish working life and for difficulties gaining employment. Women state that they have experienced unequal treatment much more often than men. Approximately one fifth of those in working life feel that equality has not been realised as it concerns them. Finns do feel, however, that appreciation for diversity is on the rise.

Elo Mutual Pension Insurance Company has examined the way in which diverse personal characteristics affect people’s experiences in Finnish working life. The survey study ‘Non-discrimination in working life - does it exist?’ investigates people’s observations and experiences on a general and personal level. More than one third (36%) of the respondents expressed that they have experienced unequal treatment. Approximately one fifth of those who are working are currently experiencing unequal treatment at work.

Of those who have personally experienced unequal treatment, nearly half (44%) state that the reason is their age, 28% say it is due to gender and nearly 20% attribute it to their reduced work ability.

More than one third of the working respondents had also observed deficiencies concerning the realisation of equality within their current workplace. Only less than half, however, state that they have addressed the unequal treatment or discrimination they observed.

‘On the basis of these results, it appears that unequal treatment is, sadly, quite common. About half of the respondents in working life stated that discussions about diversity and human equality have been held within their own workplace. Talking about it is a start, but it doesn’t go far enough to make a difference, so attitudes also need to be changed. Backed by the example of the management, organisations must roll up their sleeves and get down to making real, visible efforts to promote diversity and equality’, says Hilkka Malinen, HR Director at Elo.

Young people and those over 50 say that their age has been an issue when seeking employment

Age, a reduced work ability and ethnic background are generally considered to be highly significant factors that result in unequal treatment in working life. More than half (54%) of the respondents indicated age as the reason for unequal treatment or difficulties gaining employment. Particularly those aged 18–29 and over 50 have noted difficulties when looking for jobs. Nearly one half of the respondents believed that ethnic background (48%) and a reduced work ability (47%) generally affected the experiences of the realisation of equality or difficulties in gaining employment.

‘It is alarming that nearly one third of the respondents had detected difficulties during their job search because of their age. The age of retirement is rising every year, but at the same time, the number of those of working age is decreasing. In order to prosper, Finland needs long work careers and they won’t be realised if attitudes towards age don’t change. Young people need to be given the opportunity to gain a successful hold on working life, so that they can develop a positive attitude towards work. In terms of those who are in their 50s, they still would have about 15 years of their working careers ahead of them’, adds Malinen.

Women experience unequal treatment more than men

Of all the respondents, nearly every fourth specifies gender and nearly every fifth sexual orientation as generally causing unequal treatment in Finnish working life.

On the basis of the study results, the experiences between women and men differ. Nearly half (44%) of the women stated that they have experienced unequal treatment, whereas the corresponding figure for men was less than one third. Women attribute the unequal treatment that they have personally experienced to gender nearly three times more often than men.

At its worst, poor treatment can cut a work career short - and even threaten the national economy

Only a quarter of those who have experienced inequality take the matter up, for example, with their own supervisor or other HR personnel. Women and men also differ in the way they deal with the unequal treatment they have experienced. Women who experience inequality are more likely to bring the matter to the attention of HR personnel.

More than one third (37%) of those who have experienced unequal treatment do nothing about the issue and keep it to themselves. More than a quarter have changed their workplace. More than one out of ten (13%) of those who have experienced inequality stated that they have left working life because of the treatment they received. Most of them are between the ages of 55–64.

‘The results of the study are extremely unsettling. Altogether 13% of those who experienced poor treatment have stepped out of working life. That is a chilling figure. The employment rate in Finland for those aged 55–64 in 2018 was only about 65 per cent, which is 12.5 percentage units lower than in Sweden’, explains Tiina Helenius, Chief Economist at Elo.

If the employment rate for this age group were the same in Finland as it is in Sweden, Finland would have had more than 90,000 more employed individuals in 2018.

‘The government’s employment target of 75% means that we need more than 60,000 new workers, if the decline of the working aged population continues at the same rate as in earlier years. Finland cannot afford to lose the work input of individuals of working age because of perceived inequality in the working conditions’, says Helenius.

Appreciation for diversity has increased

There is also some good news emanating from Finnish working life. According to Elo’s study results, two fifths (41%) of respondents believe that there is more appreciation for diversity today than ever before. More than every third respondent views their own workplace as very or fairly diverse. Every fifth respondent indicated that difference or the number of different types of people has increased within their own workplace during the past two years.

The possibility to be oneself is important to the majority (93%) of the respondents in working life. Of the respondents in working life, a large percentage (80%) stated that they consider a diverse work community to be an appealing workplace.

Finns have noticed that the efforts made by employers have advanced diversity and equality. More than half of the working respondents indicated that their own organisation visibly ensures that different types of people all feel welcome in the workplace. In the phone interviews, people stated that they believed that diversity is beneficial and that its implementation requires openness from the workplace.

 ‘It is very encouraging to see how many of the respondents feel that diversity is important and value differences. We are moving in the right direction, but we still have quite a ways to go’, Malinen points out.

Information about the study

The survey study ‘Non-discrimination in working life - does it exist?’ was carried out in the form of an online survey in May–June 2019. The personal characteristics examined in the study were limited to five aspects of diversity, namely gender, age, reduced work ability, sexual orientation and ethnic background. The survey was answered by 2,020 people in working life between the ages of 18–64. Of the respondents, half stated their gender as male and half as female. A random sampling of 10 survey respondents was also interviewed by phone. Elo Mutual Pension Insurance Company commissioned Mediatoimisto Voitto to implement the study.

Go to the summary of the study (in Finnish) >

Further information:

Hilkka Malinen, HR Director, tel. +358 (0)20 703 5687

Tiina Helenius, Chief Economist, tel. +358 (0)50 573 7949

Kristiina Nieminen, Communications Manager, tel. +358 (0)40 586 8778, kristiina.nieminen@elo.fi