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The Nordic nations of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland have consistently been hailed as some of the world’s most gender-equal societies.

By GARY STEVENS

These nations have also been consistently voted as some of the best countries to do business in, which has resulted in many leading tech innovation companies and IT startups choosing to expand and build their businesses in these environments. It’s for these reasons that Scandinavia is widely seen as an emerging global technology powerhouse. 

But all is not rosy when it comes to gender equality in the Nordic IT sector. According to a study commissioned by Plan International, it was found that women are still underrepresented in the tech industry – where the wage gap also remains a complicated issue.

While there are initiatives to address the gender digital divide in these nations, experts argue that there is still a long way to go. As such, questions are arising as to whether the Nordic tech industry should keep lounging in the spotlight as a place of gender equality.

In this article, we’ll talk about the gender disparity in the Nordic tech industry, why there is still gender inequality in Nordic countries that are often accredited as pioneers of digital and equal worker rights, what work needs to be done to reduce inequality, and how balancing out the gender roles within an IT team can make positive changes as businesses progress and grow.

The gender divide in the Nordic tech industry

Despite the Nordic tech companies and IT startups increasingly becoming the industry’s most innovative and forward-thinking, the gender divide in the IT industry is a problem in the Nordic region.

The gender gap can be seen clearly in the data collected by the European Institute for Gender Equality as they report that men account for 79.1% of all IT jobs in Sweden and only 19.5% of ICT professionals in Norway are women. 

While these countries have hit impressive gender balance milestones in other sectors such as health and arts, it’s surprising to learn that men overwhelmingly dominate this space as only 20% of founders in FinTech are women. But all is not lost even with the slow progress to bridge the gender gap.

Many FinTech startups and initiatives like Women Go Tech have pledged to help and support women navigate a career in IT and become influential leaders in the sector. A case in point is that of Ishtar Touailat, Head of Innovation at Tieto, which is the largest IT consulting company in the Nordic region. Through her “Women in Business” week-long accelerator program and Starta Eget – a starter business course for female entrepreneurs, Touailat has been able to inspire women to engage in tech.

Why is there gender inequality in the Nordic tech scene?

Technology is continuing to transform our daily lives. With digital transformation accelerating at a rapid speed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the goal is to bring companies into the 21st century by using newer technologies like AI and machine learning to change the way they conduct business.

However, the creators of these technologies are overwhelmingly male. This has instigated a growing concern in regards to whether we can have a successful digital transformation, which signifies a cultural change when women are significantly underrepresented in the tech space. 

But why is there such a severe gender imbalance in the tech industry despite the Nordic region’s track record of achieving high levels of gender equality in other sectors? Here are some reasons:

1 – Fewer women are enrolling in STEM courses

While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a growing occupational option, only a few young women in the Nordic countries are choosing to pursue careers in these subjects. As such, it’s become difficult to overcome the digital gender divide even as the demand for qualified tech experts intensifies in these countries.

2 – Underlying gendered stereotypes

Over the years, women all over the world have experienced extreme discrimination from society. From a lack of legal rights to being considered as inferior and not good enough to pursue careers in STEM, these gendered stereotypes have not only made females feel secondary to males, but also affected their motivational and emotional state at their workplace and in society.

In fact, research shows that even the small percentage of women that make it into tech positions are more likely to quit because of hostility and isolation at the workplace as well as unfair compensation compared with their male counterparts.

3 – Lack of role models

Whenever we are interested in something, we tend to gravitate towards a role model that we aspire to be. And gender plays an important role in this. 

Women tend to be inspired by other women in positions they want to achieve. However, with the low enrollment of women in tech, most young women who are interested in this sector have fewer role models that they can rely on for guidance, inspiration, and motivation.

4 – Gender-based discrimination in tech organizations

Gender-based discrimination and harassment in tech organizations is another key factor that’s limiting women from pursuing careers in tech. It is worth noting, however, that gender discrimination is not a problem specific to the Nordic tech organizations but to the whole world.

According to a 2018 survey report by the State of European Tech, it was found that almost half of all women working in European tech stating that they have experienced discrimination because of their gender.

What needs to be done to reduce gender inequality in the Nordic tech industry?

As we progress into 2021, digital transformation is almost certainly in our future, along with more tech-related careers and online businesses. However, with 93% of businesses in foreseeing problems with their digital transformation, it’s crucial that the tech industry starts making progress and taking action to identify that missing piece of the puzzle that tech businesses are lacking when it comes to having a smooth digital transition – namely, a diverse and balanced workforce.

Supporting the reduction of gender inequality and fostering female tech talent can help businesses digitally adapt and transform in the year 2021. Here are a few tips that can be implemented. Note that the views discussed and highlighted here are from an educational and organizational point of view:

1 – Countering gender stereotypes

Most of the barriers that many young girls encounter when growing up arise from gender biases where the society views tech-related fields as masculine up to this day.

To counter this decades’ old challenge, teachers, as well as parents, need to take a significant role and support and encourage girls to pursue careers in tech. Implementing tech-focused education into school curriculums can not only set them up for an ever-changing digital world but also get them excited about subjects such as coding and programming.

2 – Providing early STEM education

Lack of self-confidence has highly been attributed to the low number of women in tech. Early exposure to technical education can give children a positive outlook in regards to working with technology with no gender presumptions and gave girls a sense of competence and confidence. 

3 – Mentoring programs

Mentorship programs and training are meant to help young women in tech by challenging, motivating, inspiring, and empowering them to be part of the tech industry. As such, it is good practice for Nordic tech companies to run these schemes to encourage women – both within and outside their organizations to join the workforce.

4 – Redesign the hiring process

Finding great talent is hard. On top of that, our human nature and favoritism can get in the way of finding the right person for the job which can also result in gender inequality. However, research has proven that companies that have a diverse team are more successful and are able to make better decisions.  

Understanding the unique strengths that women can bring to the tech table can support them in eliminating these barriers, ensuring diversity within teams, and cultivating a progressive working culture. 

5 – Accountability and transparency in pay and promotions

Organizations that lack accountability and transparency when it comes to promotion and pay decisions are known to shape workplace inequality that discriminates against women and treats them unfairly when it comes to salaries and work opportunities. 

Having absolute transparency and accountability when it comes to rewarding and nurturing workforces and ensuring women are seen and credited for their achievements and performance can end this injustice.

Conclusion

Excellence doesn’t discriminate between genders. Instead, it identifies talent. That is one of the reasons why the best tech organizations are open to a balanced and diverse work environment that promotes gender equality. Gender equality in the Nordic technology sector matters and makes a difference in the success of an IT startup. 

The more diverse a tech team is, the more innovative and fast it is with problem-solving and making decisions. Gender equality ensures that there is a sense of healthy competitiveness with enough staff to meet growing demands for high performing work. A gender-balanced tech team ensures that there is equal representation on corporate boards, leadership teams, etc, and promotes company values that stand for cultural and organizational change with the ultimate goal of achieving gender equality in tech.

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