Denmark is traditionally considered as one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. Global Gender Gap Report calls this into question.
By Yulia Morozova
The New Global Gender Gap Report released on 2 November 2017 at the World Economic Forum, shows disparity between genders in areas such as economics, education, health and political empowerment. The average score of each analyzed country is reflected in the Global Gender Gap Index, according to which Denmark is placed 14th this year. It is five points higher than previous year when Denmark scored only 19th. However, Denmark is still far behind its Nordic neighbours.
Therefore, people are questioning more and more why Denmark – the country that does for equality so much – is still dealing with a problem of gender discrimination, one of the strongest expressions of which is gender inequality at workplace.
Mothers in Denmark feel discriminated against
“This happened in December. In January, February, March and April I did not get any salary. I gave birth in March, so this also meant that during the first few weeks with my baby, I had to take care of him not getting any money, ” – recollects Sanne Bisp Agersnap, a 27-year-old mother who herself was discriminated against due to maternity leave.
In her blog about life of a young mother she points out, referring to the survey : “Every third mother feels discriminated against due to maternity leave. I’m also the one”.
“I worked as a sales assistant when I was studying. During my pregnancy, I also had to go on a sick leave. Here in Denmark we have the law saying that an employee has to have his salary anyway, even if one is sick. The problem was that they [the workplace] didn’t care that I was pregnant, they didn’t care that I was also sick, they just didn’t follow the Danish law at all. I spent four months fighting to get my money and nothing happened, until they went on TV”.
After she realized nothing is going to change, Sanne asked her Trade Union for help. They immediately offered her to run a case against the violators, but she refused. Later it turned out that Sanne wasn’t the only one in her workplace who didn’t get salary because of maternity or sick leave.
“I think we shouldn’t really complain, as it’s pretty good comparing to other countries. But I also think that there is a room for improvement, comparing to Sweden, for instance, because it’s women here who are still always taking the maternity leave. But I see more and more men taking the parental leave longer than for two weeks – I think that’s a positive sign. My husband, for example, took two months of paternity leave”.
Things are not so promising when it comes to wage gap based on gender in Denmark. According to Statistics Denmark , Danish men earn 13.2% more than Danish women.
“That’s a very big worldwide problem,” – claims Sanne – “I think, we’re getting closer to the point where the equality is probably almost at a balance, but there’s no evidence that men are better workers or harder workers than women, so that’s just ridiculous that they earn more”.
“Male” and “female” professions matter
Dennis Kristensen, the president of The Danish Union of Public Employees (FOA) explains, that according to the present Danish legislation, men and women should have the same salaries when they are working on the same positions. And generally, it works. However, when it comes to work of equal value – professions with the same level of responsibility that traditionally are deemed to be gendered divided – the situation is complicated. For example, nurses, working with children or elderly on the one hand have lower salaries than workers in mechanical and IT fields on the other.
“This is the area where we have a big gap. We’ve had it since women in Denmark came on a large scale to work in 1960s and we’re still trying to eliminate that gap.”
FOA president believes, that to achieve gender equality at workplace, first of all, we have to have society that will come to agreement to allocate more money, so that we can make this increase in salary for women. And then we should have a better legislation in Denmark, since we have no tools that we can use. We don’t have such thing as “equal pay for work of equal value”.
What’s wrong with the legislation?
“I would say in Denmark the biggest challenge at the moment is the fact that a lot of people have attitude that we have reached some peak state where the gender equality is. From that follow, we rejected the possibility that there might exist any kind of structural, cultural discrimination or at least different treatments of men and women,” – says Ea Høg Utoft, PhD at Political science at Aarhus University, specialized in gender in organizations.
Ea Høg Utoft believes that there are two approaches to gender equality issue. Aside from people who are concerned about gender inequality, some people believe that there is no such problem as gender-based discrimination at all – this point of view is founded in history and traditions.
“I personally think that we only tend to hear in the media about men who are very critical and not very open towards self-reflection about how they might also themselves said or done something sexist, cross some kind of boundary towards women”.
In order to actually reach equality – at workplace in particular – she suggests three steps: “First step – that I’m afraid is not very likely to happen with the current government – that some legal initiatives were implemented. At the moment in Denmark we have legislation since 2012 that has basically no consequences. Another thing is that more and more people within organizations to have a grown recognition of what in research is called ‘unconscious bias’. It’s the assumption when we can look at a person objectively regardless of what the context is”.
The third step, according to her opinion, is connected to parental leave. If parents would to a greater extent share parental leave, women’s absence from the work setting would be reduced. Their careers would not suffer these long breaks and absences, which have often been pointed to as central to the reason that women are less often chosen for recruitment and promotion.
Ea explains why the Danish legislation has no consequences.
“We see gender equality as a very Danish value – something we are proud of. We pat each other on the back and say: “Denmark is a gender equal country”. So, I’d like to see that it is actually reflected in the legislation,” – states Ea.