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Nordic men face different challenges from women in non-traditional jobs

Nordic men face different challenges from women in non-traditional jobs

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Young women training to join typically male-dominated occupations make difficult choices but are also spurred on by family, teachers and politicians and end up with a high-status job. But when young men choose healthcare jobs, they get neither status nor good pay.

That is what you might end up thinking after attending the conference “A gender-equal Nordic Region” in Oslo on 27 September. The conference was jointly hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers, three Norwegian government ministries and The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Bufdir).  

Under the headline “Young and untraditional”, Daniel Tørresvol Stabu and Kimiya Mo from Norway, and Anna Axelsen from Danmark, explained how their surroundings reacted to their choice of occupations.

“I have not faced any prejudices when I tell people I have two educations – first joiner and then building engineer. It has been more like ‘Wow, how cool – you can make and build things!’,” said Anna Axelsen, who is part of the Danish Boss Ladies project, where women who have chosen untraditional occupations work as ambassadors in schools and colleges. They also give presentations in male-dominated workplaces. 

Anna Axelsen

Anna Axelsen is a member of the Danish Boss Ladies project and was part of a conversation during the conference.

Daniel Tørresvol Stabu studies to be a nurse, and has a different story:

“I face prejudices all the time. ‘Are you gay or are you here to pick up girls?’ is the standard reaction. And that is not only from those who do not know better. I have also heard it from lecturers and student councillors.”

The gender-segregated labour market in the Nordic region has been called a paradox. Why do genders mean so much when people choose occupations in the most gender-equal countries in the world? There are various initiatives aimed at creating a more gender-equal labour market. Girls are encouraged to study data and technology, while boys are urged to check out the healthcare sector.  

Mari Teigen

Mari Teigen form Core.

Mari Teigen from Core, a Norwegian gender equality research centre, summed up the development, and said the situation is fragmented: 

“There is a tendency for polarization. We see more women at the top and also at the bottom. Some women are lifted up to the jobs with the highest wages, but at the same time there is a slight increase in women in the lowest-paid jobs.” 

Current statistics show that not much is happening.


The graphs show that the number of women in male-dominated occupations has not risen notably in the Nordic countries. The number is lowest in Norway by some margin and has been falling. In the other countries, the number has fluctuated more. Source: Nordic Statistics Database.

The number of men in female-dominated jobs in the Nordics varies between 21 and 27 % for 2020, with the lowest number in Finland and the highest in Denmark.

Two contradictory needs often emerge in the debate about the gender-segregated labour market:

More men are needed in the healthcare sector because of ageing demographics. The conference heard numbers from the Norwegian government’s Outlook Report which showed 110,000 more healthcare jobs will be needed in Norway by 2035. Today the sector employs 13 % of the total labour force. By 2035 it will be 18 % and by 2066 31 %. 

At the same time, more women must be tempted into new, green companies. How do you square this circle without importing even more labour from abroad?

Fredrik Bondestam, head of the Nordic Information on Gender NIKK, summed it up thus:

“This is about manifold or men.”

Mohamed Amaleti, a local politician for the Labour Party in Fredrikstad who also works in elderly care, is an example of both diversity and maleness.

“I am happy with working with older and vulnerable people. What I enjoy most with my occupation as a care worker is providing welfare to others,” he says. 

Mohamed Amaleti arrived as an unaccompanied minor from Somalia and applied for asylum aged 17.

Mohamed Amaleti

Mohamed Amaleti.

He has one wish, however – to get a full-time job. He currently has three different part-time jobs in elderly care in order to work nearly full-time. 

WhileMohamed Amaleti needs no convincing for joining the care sector, it is often more difficult to hire men and keep them there. The Swedish organisation Män i hälsa (men in healthcare) works on breaking down prejudicesinspired by a similar project in Norway, with the same name. 

It targets male jobseekers aged 25 to 55 who are looking for a career change and who are curious about the healthcare sector. They are offered a course and during what is called the recruitment period get to see what the occupation entails, with the guidance of a mentor. If they are still interested they get an education and a certificate. 

“It is often a relief for a man to be able to talk with another man about working in the healthcare sector,” says Petra Lindberg.

Because it is a fact that men also experience ending up in education and jobs where their gender is not taken into consideration. There are parallels to women who struggle to find work clothes that fit or who have to put up with posters of naked women in the changing room, says Gísli Kort Kristófersson, associate professor at the University of Akureyri.

Gísli Kort Kristófersson

Gísli Kort Kristófersson, associate professor at the University of Akureyri.

“When I studied to become a nurse, it was common practice to get a bodybuilder in for anatomy lessons in order to demonstrate different muscle groups – well-oiled and in tiny swimming trunks. We were 170 women and three men.  But when the lesson was over, only one male student would remain,” he says.

Today he also works for a Nordregio project that involves the Østfold University College and the LAB University of Applied Sciences as well as the University of Akureyri. It is called Share the Care and will run until 2024. The aim is to increase the number of men taking a healthcare education, as well as to find reasons why so many men who chose to do so, leave before graduating.


Young people who chose differently

Daniel Tørresvol Stabu, Anna Axelsen and Kimiya Mo were among those who participated in the conference “A gender-equal Nordic Region. Measures and solutions for future education and working life” on 27 September.


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