While the world is making mixed progress in closing the gap on gender equality, Nordic societies have been leading the way on this for years. When people think of countries like Sweden or Denmark, stylish design and minimal lifestyles may spring to mind, but gender equality is one of the true cornerstones of modern Nordic society. These countries continuously stand out in the Global Gender Gap Report, which measures equality in all areas from education and employment  to economics. We wanted to uncover what the Nordic secret was and in doing so found that a combination of government led initiatives and societal trends are helping these countries to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of gender equality.

Sweden is one country leading the way in gender equality
Norway, Sweden and Finland are some of the world leaders in closing the gap of gender equality. Of these countries, Finland has the greatest female labour-force participation, with 83% of women working full-time. This could largely be attributed to Finland’s outstanding public childcare. Finnish law states that children under the age of seven have the right to child care and preschool regardless of a family's income. Such a system has provided mothers with the freedom to maintain full-time employment without compromising on the care of their children, which in turn ensures more women in the workplace.

In all three countries, higher education is encouraged by being either free or very affordable, making it more accessible to a greater number of people. This has paved the way for a highly skilled workforce and enables people to strive for a more prosperous career. The benefit of investing into early and higher education can be seen in the decreased salary gap between men and women, which is among the lowest in the world. In 2015, it was reported that Nordic countries on average had the smallest difference between the proportion of employed men and women.

Another influential factor that has contributed to decreasing the gender gap in the Nordics is a mandatory parental leave policy. While women still get the most time off for parental leave, Nordic men take more time off work to spend time with their family than any other part of the world. Sweden, in particular, has a generous parental leave policy that has allowed people to achieve a greater work-life balance. In fact, Sweden has the most generous parental leave policy in the world. New parents are entitled to 480 days leave at 80% of their normal pay. While in Norway parents can choose between 49 weeks at 100% salary or 59 weeks at 80% salary. These Nordic policies have cultivated a unique balance between work and family time, through minimising financial pressures.

Nordic countries have also seen a rise in female political representatives. Their commitment to gender equality in politics dates back to the early 20th century, as Nordic countries were among the first to give women the vote. Today, Sweden has one of the world’s highest representations of women in parliament, at 43.6%, according to the Inter-Parliament Union’s world ranking for the percentage of women in national parliaments.

Compared to the rest of the world, these countries have the most positive attitudes towards gender equality, especially in the workplace. However, there is still work to be done to really establish gender equality as a real issue and not an isolated problem. Norway, Finland and Sweden are all working to bring gender equality even more closely to the spotlight, with gender mainstreaming being seen as the best way to achieve this.

Gender mainstreaming is a globally accepted strategy towards realising complete gender equality in all areas and levels of political, economic and social life. It’s a public policy concept and essentially the idea of bringing gender issues into the public eye, while promoting equality and diversity among men and women. Mainstreaming involves integrating gender perspectives and ensuring the goal of gender equality is central to all activities, including decision making and regulatory measures. All things considered, other countries should look to Nordic countries as a model in order to learn how to improve their own gender equality policies.

In recent years, Singapore has taken some impressive steps to encourage female empowerment, through things like education and reproductive health, seeing the nation rise through the gender equality rankings globally. However, the gender pay gap in Singapore has not improved in over 10 years, with men earning between 20 and 40 percent more than females.

Businesses need to starting asking what more can be done within Singapore and Asia as a region to make the changes necessary to achieve gender equality. If you have any good examples of positive changes being made, either in the workplace or more generally in society, leave a comment below to let us know.


At Cobalt, we are committed to promoting equal opportunities and diversity, as an employer, a provider of recruitment services, customer and supplier. If you are interested in discussing any opportunities or hiring needs, please contact your nearest Cobalt office.