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Nordic power positions: a modest increase in gender equality

Nordic power positions: a modest increase in gender equality

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

The past year has seen two new governments emerge in the Nordics, and several changes among the top brass in labour market. But there were only modest changes to the gender balance. Women get one point more and end up with 66 points in the NLJ’s gender equality barometer, where 100 points means equal power distribution between the genders in the Nordic countries. But Iceland overtakes Norway.

Iceland got its first ever LO leader in Drifa Snædal. The way we measure, this is an important position and the main reason why Iceland overtakes Norway. The country gets 19 points, compared to Norway's 17.

Denmark got it's first female chairman of the Confederation of Employers, Lisbeth Dalgaard Svanholm. Two female heads of employers' organisations stepped down last year – Carola Lemne in Sweden, and Kristin Skogen Lund in Norway. In both countries, the minsters of labour survived the government reshuffles.

Our gender equality barometer details how many men and how many women sit in 24 different positions of power in each Nordic country. Half of these positions are in politics, while the rest are in the labour market and what we consider to be symbolically important positions. We give out 200 points, 40 to each country. The 24 positions of power give different scores, from one point for an ordinary government minister to five points for prime ministers. When women achieve 100 points across the Nordic region, or 20 points in one of the countries, we consider gender equality to be achieved in this, albeit limited, area.

Nordic region 8 March 2019

The points are calculated on the International Women’s Day, the 8th of March. Last year women in the Nordics got 65 points. This year they reach 66 points. That is one point less than in 2015. The graph for the whole of the Nordic region points to a slow, steady increase in the number of women in top positions.

Finland bottom – again

There is a big difference in the number of points between countries. Finland scored top a few years ago, but has lately found itself at the bottom. Juha Sipilä’s government has 17 ministers. Six are women, but only three are in positions that we count. None of the main employee or employer organisations have female leaders, and there are no women in the five symbolically important posts either. 

Finland 8 March 2019

On the 8th of March, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä announced that the government would step down, after failing to get support in parliament for a major healthcare and social reform. Our point of measure is 8am on the 8th of March. The announcement was made after this, and does not influence the barometer. There are parliamentary elections in Finland on 14 April. Regardless of the result, the Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner has said she will keep her word and retire after four years. She has already said yes to a post on the board of Swedish bank SEB. She has also served as Minister for Nordic Cooperation. 

The Finnish elections will lead to major change. The True Finns’ results will be followed with great interest. In June 2017 the party’s parliamentary group split, with 22 of the MPs founding a new party, Blue Reform. All of the former True Finns’ government ministers jointed the breakaway group, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Tiomo Soini and the Minister of Labour Jari Lindström.

In the latest opinion poll from Taloustutkimus, published by Yle on the 10th of January, the True Finns scored 10.2 percent while Blue Reform only secured 1 percent. The Social Democratic Party was the largest with 21.2 percent of votes. Party leader Antti Rinne contracted pneumonia during a holiday in Spain, and was off sick until the 1st of March. Deputy leader Sanna Marin had been responsible for the election campaign in his absence.

Danish elections

Denmark will also be holding parliamentary elections. The exact date is only known by Price Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. He will pick the day, but elections must be held by the 17th of June, which is four years since the last election. The date must be announced no later than three weeks before election day. The government has seen relatively few changes, and nine of its 22 ministers are women. Only three of them are in positions which are part of our barometer. 

Denmark 8 March 2019

Denmark saw big changes at the start of the year, when the two largest employee organisations – LO and FTF – merged and created the Danish Trade Union Confederation, FH. Former LO President Lizette Risgaard is the leader, and FTF President Bente Sorgenfrey is her deputy. We let both of them keep their points.

There have been changes on the employer’s side too. In 2018, Lisbeth Dagaard Svanholm became the first female President of the Confederation of Danish Employers, DA. She is the confederation’s 19th President since its creation in 1896, with the slogan “A sleeping man will never win”. The fact that she is the first woman in that post got very little attention in Danish media. The NLJ presents her here:

Thanks to her, Denmark climbs to 14 points. 

A renegotiated government in Sweden

That is one point more than Sweden, after its new government coalition emerged on the 21st of January after record-long negotiations. The two women in ministerial posts that get the most points – after the Prime Minister – remain. Magdalena Andersson carries on as Minister for Finance, and Margot Wallström is still Minister for Foreign Affairs. Ylva Johansson also remains as Minister for Labour.

Sweden 8 March 2019

Anna Ekström became Minister for Education and gains a point. Her former title was Minister for Upper Secondary School and Adult Education and Training.

Isabelle Lövin goes from being the Minister for International Development to Minister of the Environment and Energy. She is also the Deputy Prime Minister in Stefan Löfven’s government.

On the 8th of March 2018, Carola Lemne announced she would step down as Director General for the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. Jarl-Olof Jacke took over on the 8th of October that year.

Iceland tops the gender equality barometer

In Iceland, Drifa Snædal became President of  Alþýðusamband Íslands, ÁSI, Iceland’s LO. BSRB, The Federation of State and Municipal Employees, is also led by a woman. Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdottir was elected on the 19th of October 2018. The Icelandic Confederation of University Graduates, BHM, has been led by a woman since 2015 – Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir.

Iceland 8 March 2019

There have been changes on the employers’ side too, bringing in a new generation of leaders. This spring’s wage negotiations are expected to be difficult, and the risk of a major conflict is considered to be large.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir heads a government spanning the far left to the conservative party. Earlier this year, gender equality issues also became part of her portfolio. A major international #metoo conference will be held in Reykjavik in September. 

In Norway, #metoo continues to have an impact on politics. The deputy Labour Party leader, Trond Giske, was forced to resign after several young women accused him of inappropriate behaviour. In late February, supporters in his Trondheim base wanted to vote him back into the party leadership, but a nine seconds long video of him dancing with a young woman in a bar was enough for him not to regain the trust of the party – even though the woman in the video said she had taken the initiative. 

Norway too saw lengthy government negotiations as the Christian Democrats joined the centre-right coalition on the 22nd of January this year. That decision split the party, and led to Olaug Vervik Bollestad taking over as party leader. She also became the Minister of Agriculture and Food. As a result, Erna Solberg’s government now comprises four female party leaders. Solberg herself leads the Conservative Party, while the Minister of Finance Siv Jensen heads the Progress Party and the Minister of Culture Trine Skei Grande heads the Liberal Party.

Norway 8 March 2019

With the departure Kristin Skogen Lund as Director General of the Norwegian Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, Norway loses one point and is down to 17.

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No-one to look up to

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen looks up at Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. Both countries are facing elections, and on the 8th of March Sipilä announced that he and his government would step down. Perhaps Finland will improve its place in the gender equality barometer after the election.  Three points is not a lot, when 20 points means equality between men and women in 24 positions of power in each country. In Norway, women have had more than that during Erna Solberg's reign, but this year the country ends up with 17 points. Iceland gets 19 points and with that is best out of the Nordic countries.

How we calculated

50 percent female government minister representation might look like gender equality has been accomplished. But it also depends on which positions are being held by women.

We have distributed 200 points - 40 for each Nordic country. 100 female points equals full gender equality.

We have looked at 13 government minister posts. Each gives one point except prime minister (5), finance minister (3) and foreign minister (2).

We have also included leaders of the largest trade unions and employers' organisations:

Leaders of confederations of trade unions (4), leaders of service industries unions (2), leaders of trade unions for academics (2), leaders of employers' organisations (2) and managing directors at employers' organisations (2).

And finally six important symbolic positions:

Heads of state, supreme court presidents, heads of central banks, arch bishops, police commissioners and commander-in-chief. 

Heads of state get three points, while the others get one each. We have not included leaders of major companies because they are not considered to be employed as a result of a democratic process. We measure at 8am on 8 March each year.

We have made certain adjustments for Iceland. Since the country only has seven government ministries, some ministers have been given an extra point, giving Iceland the same maximum of 40 points as the other Nordic countries.  


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