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Nordic focus on getting more newly arrived women into work
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Nordic focus on getting more newly arrived women into work

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo Oxford Research

To succeed in getting more newly arrived women into work, the Nordic countries need more employment measures, an increased focus on childcare and documented results from measures, according to a new study.

The employment rate for Nordic women is world-leading, but there is one great exception: Women who have arrived to the Nordics either as refugees, in need of other types of protection or as relatives of people who need protection. Many do not manage to enter into the labour market after gaining their residence permits. This needs to change, and it is possible to do so.

That is the conclusion in a new study from the Nordic Council of Ministers, carried out by the analytics company Oxford Research.

‘Integrating newly arrived women: A comparative study of the integration of newly arrived women into the Nordic labour market and political integration measures’.

The study shows the employment rate among newly arrived women as a group is considerably lower than that of newly arrived men, which again is far below the average employment rate for citizens born in the Nordic region. Many newly arrived women also remain outside of the labour market for a very long period of time – often more than five years. In Denmark and Finland, two in three women do not have a job ten years after arriving.

The study maps and sums up what the Nordic countries are doing to get newly arrived women into work. It shows that measures vary from country to country, but access to them is fairly equal. None of the Nordic countries have solved the Gordian knot, according to one of the study’s main authors, Anna-Karin Gustafsson. She is an analyst with Oxford Research specialising in labour market issues and gender equality.

“We cannot say any of the Nordic countries are leading the way when it comes to getting newly arrived women into the labour market. All the countries have certain challenges that seem not to have been solved,” she says.

More job-oriented measures

The study points to a range of structural challenges which act as obstacles to newly arrived women’s chances for employment. Across the Nordics, integration measures lack initiatives that are specially targeted at these women. Measures in all of the countries are based on a person’s individual needs and skills – not gender.

“Measures aimed at women are extremely rare when it comes to national introduction measures. Gender equality is highlighted in political documents, but are very hard to trace in the concrete measures,” Oxford Research says in the study.

It also concludes that newly arrived women are being discriminated against. They are not being offered job-oriented introduction measures to the same extent as newly arrived men.

“All the Nordic countries have introduction programmes aimed at getting newly arrived people into work, but we see that women to a lesser degree than men have access to programmes which are workplace-oriented.”

The study shows that workplace-oriented measures are most efficient when it comes to getting participants into work, but it is newly arrived men who are most often offered measures like traineeships, while women are typically offered measures which do not involve direct contact with workplaces, says Anna-Karin Gustafsson.

Why this is the case is unclear, but language skills could be a contributing factor, she believes:

“Research shows that language represent a greater challenge for women than for men in the labour market. The reason why is still not clear, but it could be because these women, to a greater extent than men, get jobs in sectors where communication is important, or employers expect better communication skills from women in a recruitment situation – in which case we are talking about pure discrimination.”

Focus on childcare

Another structural obstacle facing newly arrived women is children and childcare, explains Anna-Karin Gustafsson. The Nordic countries, with their relatively cheap and easy access to childcare while at work, are unique. But for newly arrived women this throws up a range of challenges.

“This group of women use day care to a far lesser extent than others, and look after their children themselves at home. We have no clear answer as to why this is the case, but if these women are offered evening and night work they will struggle to find childcare, and might have to turn job offers down.”

Another important factor is the fact that having other people look after your children is not the tradition in the countries many of the newly arrived women come from. If the mothers also do not speak the local language, it can be difficult to communicate with day care staff who are looking after their children, which might feel very unsafe. 

Anna-Karin Gustafsson therefore recommends that the Nordic countries do more to inform newly arrived women and families about Nordic childcare in a language which the women understand. More flexible opening hours should also be considered, so that newly arrived women do not have to say no to evening and night work because of a lack of childcare, recommends Anna-Karin Gustafsson.

The report also points out that access to parental leave and childcare allowance hampers newly arrived women’s access to the labour market, as their links to the labour market are weak in the first place. To address this problem, Sweden and Norway have introduced reforms aimed at limiting newly arrived women’s access to these measures, in order to give them more incentive to work. It is still too early to assess what effect this has had, says Anna-Karin Gustafsson.

Evidence is needed

It is unclear whether low employment rates among newly arrived women could also be due to some of them preferring to stay at home, or that their husbands want them to do that. But it cannot be ruled out, thinks Anna-Karin Gustafsson.

“The women interviewed for this study were very motivated to find work. But it could be a factor, and it would be a very interesting issue to explore because it is difficult to reach any conclusions on this based on existing studies.”

What surprised Anna-Karin Gustafsson the most while carrying out the study, was the lack of evidence for whether measures introduced by Nordic countries in this area have worked.

“Several Nordic countries have very comprehensive integration programmes, but do not systematically assess their effect – despite the fact that this knowledge ought to be essential for the formation of policies and further measures in this area,” she says.

She believes this is an important area for Nordic cooperation.

“If Nordic countries started to cooperate systematically in order to assess the effect of these measures and share that data, it could have a major and rapid effect when it comes to targeting the measures in order to get more newly arrived women up and running in the Nordic labour market.”

She also believes it would help to study what happens to women who do find work: Do they get full-time or part-time jobs? Are they hired on short term contracts more often than other groups of employees? Do they get jobs where they can use their education?

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Facts about the study

‘Integrating newly arrived women: A comparative study of the integration of newly arrived women into the Nordic labour market and political integration measures’.

Carried out on commission from the Nordic Council of Minsters’ Labour Market Committee under the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Labour (EK-A) by analytics company Oxford Research.

Based on a review of existing literature supplemented by around five interviews in each Nordic country.

The study’s conclusions were discussed at a conference on integration into the Nordic labour market in Stockholm on 13 April 2018.

Read the study here (in Swedish)

Definition of ‘newly arrived’

The study defines ‘newly arrived’ as people who in the past five years have been granted residence permits based on their refugee status or their need for protection, or if they are close relatives to such a person.

This definition was chosen because the Nordic countries have different definitions of ‘newly arrived’:

In Sweden you are a ‘newly arrived’ when taking part in the Swedish Public Employment Service’s introduction programme – around two years after being granted a residence permit.

In Denmark a person is ‘newly arrived’ if he or she was given a residence permit no longer than five years ago.

In Norway the term is used to cover people who are targets for integration measures which form part of the Introduction Act, i.e. people who have lived in a Norwegian municipality for less than two years.

In Finland and in Iceland, the term is not normally used.

Asylum seekers, labour migrants and others who have arrived on a family reunion basis are not considered newly arrived.

The study therefore focuses on newly arrived women’s links to the labour market during the first years after gaining residence permits.

Source: ‘Integrating newly arrived women’, Nordic Council of Ministers, 2018

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