The Nordic Model for inclusive and competitive economies

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Children are one of the greatest gifts in life, and the Nordic countries work toward gender-equal economies by placing women and families at the forefront of their economic efforts.

Ambassador of Sweden to the United States

Ambassador of Iceland to the United States

Ambassador of Finland to the United States

Ambassador of Norway to the United States

Ambassador of Denmark to the United States

For the past 18 years, the United States has celebrated National Work and Family Month in October. This year, its significance carried extra weight. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed on a global scale the immediate need for work policies that promote equal opportunities among employees. We, the Nordic Ambassadors to the United States see an opportunity to rebuild stronger and more gender-equal economies by placing women, and families, at the forefront of economic efforts.

By now, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and their livelihoods is well documented. Around the world, COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities and reversed years of gender-equality gains. Even though women make up less than 40% of the global labor force, they account for the majority of overall job losses. Women remain overrepresented in informal, vulnerable and low-paid employment, and as the demand for unpaid care work has increased, most of the burden continues to fall on women.

As governments and businesses sketch their plans for post-COVID recovery, creating more inclusive economies and workplaces that benefit everyone is paramount. We can promote economic and social reforms that allow both women and men to combine the joys of family life with the autonomy of pursuing a career. And we can do all this while boosting our economies.

How do we know this works? We have done it ourselves.

The Nordic countries have long promoted gender equality and family-friendly policies to spur economic and social development. Norway, for example, was the first country in the world to introduce a quota law requiring boards of listed companies to have a gender balance of at least 40/60. This has increased female board members in listed companies from 6% in 2002 to 42.5% in 2021 and is part of an overall ambition to strengthen female leadership in the private sector.

In Finland, all families, regardless of their income level, have the option of leaving their child in the good care of professional early educators. Pedagogic early education gives children a good start in life while allowing both parents to pursue their careers, if they so choose.

And in Denmark, a legally binding Gender Equality Act commits all public authorities to promote equality and ensuring equal representation of women and men in councils, boards, and committees. It obligates public institutions and companies to set targets in boards and develop policies in management to promote gender balance.

Iceland was the first country in the world to implement an Equal Pay Certification policy in 2018, requiring companies and institutions that employ 25 or more workers on an annual basis to prove that they pay men and women equally for a job of equal value. The act applies to approximately 80% of employers and enforces decades-old legislation and international obligations.

Meanwhile, Sweden became the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with gender-neutral parental leave in 1974 and, in 1995, introduced the first “daddy month” requiring each parent to take at least some leave on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. Today, men use, on average, 30% of the 480 days of leave provided to parents.

As a result of these policies, our countries today have some of the highest female labor force participation rates in the OECD at close to or above 80% (the OECD average is 64%). Countless mothers have been able to return to productive careers after childbirth without falling behind. And there is now a whole generation of fathers who will testify to the value of spending one-on-one quality time with a new child—Nordic fathers use more parental leave than fathers anywhere else in the world. Overall, our countries are considered some of the best in the world for raising children.

But promoting equal economic opportunities for women and ensuring inclusive workplaces is not just about supporting individuals and families. It’s also good for the economy. In the Nordic countries, the OECD has estimated that increases in female employment alone account for up to 20 percent of the average annual GDP per capita growth over the past 40-50 years. Competitive and innovative Nordic companies, such as Spotify, Supercell, Vestas, Autostore, and Carbfix, are pushing the boundaries of tech and clean energy far beyond our small corner in northern Europe. We are convinced that our economic achievements in large part are the result of the social structures that allow all individuals the opportunity to balance family life with a productive career.

That is not to say that the Nordic countries are perfect. In all of our countries, women still perform most of the unpaid care work, earn on average less than what men earn, and are underrepresented in private sector leadership roles. We, too, have a lot of work to do before every individual is given a fair chance to reach their full potential. But our experiences prove that promoting a more gender-equal economy through inclusive work policies is not just the right thing to do—it’s an economic imperative that benefits all of society.

As we face a post-pandemic recovery, we have a rare opportunity to build more inclusive and resilient economies that are both globally competitive and sensitive to the needs of all citizens. By putting gender equality at the center of our efforts, everyone stands to gain.

This article first appeared on and was reprinted with permission.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 19, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.