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Sweden: Elusive Equality

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 4, 2013

By Lilli DeBode, guest blogger, senior at Kent Place School

Sweden has the reputation of a land of idyllic gender equality. I personally have cited the country numerous times in my previous posts. As close as we have come so far to parity, Sweden’s promising experiment is a beacon of hope, proving that it is in fact possible for women to be treated as men’s equals. But despite their immense progress, they still have one area they need to work on.

Sweden is among the top ranked countries for parental leave (16 months for each parent,) the female employment rate is above 70%, and the difference between male and female employment rates is about 5%. Women also make up 45% of parliament, and 64% of managers in the public sector are women. Sounds pretty good, right? Yes, it is incredibly impressive and it’s much more than almost all other countries can say, but the Swedes are still struggling with managers in the private sector. Women only make up 28% of all upper managerial positions. While this number pretty much aligns with the rest of the developed western nations, the Swedes find the inconsistency between the number of women representatives in the public and private sectors quite irritating.

So what is the reasoning behind this lack of women in executive management teams? Women are taking more time off to look after their children. As I stated above, both men and women get 16 months off from work after they have a baby, but just because each parent is offered the leave from work, doesn’t mean they both take the same amount of time. The option is out there but it is relatively new and the gender norms haven’t been dispelled yet. Men and women are forced to take at least 60 days off, but after that time period, it is up to them whether they want to return early or not. According to Statistics Sweden, “Women take 75% of parental leave and work part-time more than three times as often as men.”

Although it often may sound like it, Sweden isn’t a utopia where both the men and the women work and share equal part in the office and the home. They still struggle with the problems we face every day. Though they seem much less entrenched in Sweden, the notion that men should be the breadwinners and the women should be the homemakers is still present. It is projected to take 52 years before women make up 50% of company management position, but citizens want results now. It seems that if they keep up the battle for equality that they have been winning in spades, the Swedes will have their equality in all sectors much sooner than they had planned.

Sources and Resources: This article by Quartz provides more in-depth information about Sweden’s “Mom Trap.” The Economist’s article on  female power contains more statistical information about female employment in Sweden and other developed countries around the world.

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