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"Structures maintain the gender-segregated labour market"

| Text: Fayme Alm

“Men are underrepresented across the entire welfare sector, including healthcare, social care and education. Research shows that the reasons primarily lie on an organisational and structural level and that efforts to get more men to choose jobs in the welfare sector therefore must also be targeted at an organisational and structural level.”

That is what Malin Allert tells the Nordic Labour Journal. She is an investigator at the Swedish Gender Equality Agency's department for analysis and evaluation.

Malin Allert

Malin Allert. Photo: Private. 

To reduce gender segregation in the labour market and counteract gendered study and career choices, the agency works from two perspectives:

  • Firstly, by analyzing and monitoring developments in society in relation to gender equality policies. For example, by analyzing gender segregation in the labour market and in the education system – a quantitative perspective.
  • Secondly, by examining the norms and values behind the numbers – a qualitative perspective.

“In Sweden, we have a very gender-segregated labour market. The majority of workers in the Swedish labour market are in an occupation that is dominated by one gender. Fewer than 20 per cent work in an occupation with an even gender distribution,” says Malin Allert and adds:

“But this is not the whole truth, because the even gender distribution is defined as a gender distribution of 40/60 and not 50/50.”

The agency has identified factors like salary, working hours and working environment as influencing people’s choice of studies and work. 

Female work is low-status

The greatest obstacle to achieving a less gender-segregated labour market, according to the Gender Equality Agency, is that female-dominated work is undervalued. That becomes clear when you compare salaries to those in the equivalent male-dominated occupations, as well as the state of the working environment and how the work is organised.

“Gender marking of professions strongly influences gender segregation in the labour market. I believe that most of us have personal experience of how people think about there being female or male professions. The fact that women are still seen as suited for welfare jobs, for instance.

"This, in turn, makes the competencies and skills required to work in welfare professions invisible, which again means that men with care work skills do not seek employment there," says Malin Allert.

Choices, dropouts and changes

In addition to its core mission, the Gender Equality Agency has several other assignments. One of them is Gender-bound study and career choices which should “promote collaboration between authorities regarding gender-bound study and career choices, particularly focusing on assisting stakeholders in broadening their recruitment base and retaining existing employees.” 

“Here we point to the importance of organisational and structural measures. We need to throw light on the organisations and structures that contribute to individuals choosing within a system that creates or maintains gender segregation between women and men,” says Malin Allert.

She points out that study and career choices can be the result of a long chain of events and that efforts are needed along the entire path. From making the initial choice to starting an education, completing it, entering the job market, and staying in the profession. 

"We see leaks. It is much more common for men to drop out of education and from welfare professions. But what we can also see, and what is interesting, is that there are shifts in the labour market, leading to reduced gender segregation. And it is primarily women who have been behind this change," says Malin Allert.


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