Swedish Startup Space

Gender and Tech in the Capital of Scandinavia

Written by on July 10, 2014

In 2010, The World Economic Forum ranked Sweden as the most gender-egalitarian country in the world. Indeed, this is something for which Sweden is often praised. In the past four years, Sweden has maintained its position in the top five, and is on course to maintain that classification for the foreseeable future.

However, being ranked as one of the world’s most gender-equal countries is not a laurel that Sweden is resting on. It is said that you should never compare yourself to others; only to the person you were the day before. Thus, Sweden remains relentless in its endeavor to tackle the gender discrepancy issue. But gender-equality is not the summit of Sweden’s attainable accomplishments.

The ultimate goal is gender-neutrality. Socio-economic equality, leading to socio-economic neutrality. What’s the difference? Gender equality retains the distinction between gender roles, but strives to value each identically. Gender neutrality blurs the contrast between gender roles, repealing traditional social norms and advocating less gender distinction. This push toward neutrality targets areas that are currently stifling academic and socio-economic development. For this goal to be attainable, Sweden is leveraging a core strength, its tech sector. Stockholm, being on the bleeding edge of European tech innovation, investment and employment, is in a position to spearhead these efforts and to rally Sweden into a gender-neutral league of its own.

The ultimate goal is gender-neutrality: socio-economic equality, leading to socio-economic neutrality.

Google-sponsored report on tech employment shows that Stockholm has the highest share of tech-related jobs in Europe, with approximately 22,000 tech companies employing almost 200,00 people in the city alone. More than half of all of Sweden’s tech companies are based in Stockholm. Rather impressively, there are more programmers in Stockholm than any other group of employee. It is literally the most common job for males in Stockholm. The next most common tech occupation is ‘computer technician’, in fifth place.

Rather impressively, there are more programmers in Stockholm than there are any other group of employee.

While the same cannot currently be said for females, ongoing efforts for gender-neutrality are galvanizing interest in STEM enrollment and consequently, STEM employment, and will be causative to the inevitable correction of these statistics for females. Other socio-economic factors support this shift as well, for which the numbers are also impressive: Sweden has the one of the smallest gender employment-rate gaps in the world, with only 4% more men being employed than women. Swedes have the one of the lowest rates of income inequality in the world. Close to 45% of parliamentarians are women, the second highest among developed nations. Sweden has the highest percentage of working mothers among developed nations, approximately 76%. Swedes enjoy a combined parental leave of 480 days, one of the longest in the world, eligible for use until the child is eight years old. The same applies for same-sex as well as adoptive parents.

Apart from the focus on (higher-paying) STEM jobs, there are various alternative efforts devised to accelerate the process, such as unisex names and changing rooms in elementary schools, color-neutral clothing and toys, organized initiatives such as TechEq, and Sweden’s use of a gender-neutral pronoun for both boys and girls, called hen. Though seemingly unrelated, all of these and the aforementioned statistics are  vital proponents for increased female enrollment in the tech industry.

Sociologically, the implications of a gender-neutral pronoun are radical. Why is hen such an important ingredient in the quest for gender neutrality? The good thing about language is that it shapes the way we think, directly affecting the way we act, and in turn affecting our society at large. The bad thing about language is that it shapes the way we think, directly affecting the way we act, and in turn affecting our society at large. Countries with gender segregation in their language have more gender segregation in their culture. This is an example of correlation equalling causation. Mandates and quotas for women in boardrooms and on guest panels are effective, as are decrees for unisex changing rooms, pink guns, and camo-colored cooking utensils, but they are nowhere near as far-reaching as reprogramming the way we perceive gender in our minds. Here, we see how Stockholm is on the forefront of addressing these issues in ways that are just as innovative as its tech industry.

Countries with gender segregation in their language have more gender segregation in their culture.

The path toward gender-neutrality has always been arduous, yet Stockholm continues to be a beacon of light; illuminating, inspiring and brightening the future for women in tech, and thus, for everyone in tech.

Sources:

http://stockholmitregion.com/2014/05/16/stockholm-tech-numbers/
http://www.scb.se/Statistik/AM/AM0208/2012A01/AM0208_2012A01_SM_AM33SM1401.pdf
http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/04/hen_sweden_s_new_gender_neutral_pronoun_causes_controversy_.html
http://www.econ.kuleuven.be/VIVES/publicaties/discussionpapers/DP/dp2013/final-20131223-3rd.pdf
http://www.eupedia.com/sweden/trivia.shtml

And heres a nice infograph:

http://womenandtech.com/infographic-paid-maternity-leave/

  • mayaseven

    Unfortunately racial segregation is alive and well in Stockholm as well as the rest of Sweden. When is someone going to tackle that issue? Sweden has a long, long way to go with that one.

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