Engaging men on International Women’s Day: lessons from Sweden

Topics Gender

This International Women’s Day – as DCA calls on organisations to step up their inclusion programs and encourage men to help make gender equality a reality – we share 3 lessons from Sweden.

These lessons come courtesy of Linda Haas. She is Professor Emerita of sociology at the Indiana University in Indianapolis in the U.S, and was a speaker at DCA’s recent gender equality network.

Linda is an expert on gender-progressive Sweden, which sits in the top 5 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap (while Australia limps in at 46).

That ranking suggests there’s a lot to learn from the Nordic country. And much of the learning lies in  how the country has successfully engaged men. How large corporations have accommodated fathers’ parental leave; how government has facilitated shared care, and the collective culture has shifted to a place where everyone has the role of whole human being, involved in breadwinning and caring.  

Linda Haas shares how they did it.  

Lesson # 1 - Caring is sharing  

“Shared care is the most radical element of Swedish equality policy,” Linda reveals. “It is not an easy goal to implement because of the persistence of the gender culture of work organisations.

“But in Sweden, they have undertaken a serious challenge to mothers' primary responsibility to childcare and housework. A challenge that is so thorough and widespread that, if you said to someone that mothers take care of children better than fathers, it would be the most discriminatory thing you could say in Sweden. 

“This is taught in schools and emphasised in healthcare and social insurance systems. There is high consensus on this point, in terms of public opinion, policymakers and unions. 

“If we want to bring about gender equality… we should promote the idea that men participate equally in child care – and that they can do as good a job as women.”

Lesson # 2 - Weaning off workaholism

On this important point Linda says, “An intensification of work and long hours are seen as essential components of a modern economy. But research shows that high work intensity and long hours are not associated with high productivity. But … they are associated with what a ‘traditional’ man does. And that's why they persist. 

“We need to change the work culture for men. An old view, challenged by American law professor Joan C Williams says, 'Be a manly, successful, ideal worker. Or be a wimpy, nurturing father.'

"But the new view is represented by what Sweden wants to be, and by the male Swedish Postmaster General, who took six months of parental leave and said,

'No-one is indispensable at work, we are only indispensable to our children.' 

Lesson # 3 - Business benefits 

The above isn’t just a nice sentiment, either, according to Linda – there are professional benefits.

“In Sweden, they think men get special powers from staying home," she adds. "They are suddenly able to juggle more things. They think they are more productive. They believe it is true. 

“Another major benefit, according to my research, is that shared care requires work redesign because you have to worry about it. If someone is home for six months, jobs cannot be organised in the same way. This work redesign enhances company creativity and their competitive edge.”

Members, learn more on how to engage men in promoting gender equality at work. Discover the benefits in our Inclusion@Work Index.  

Interested readers, find out more about joining DCA.





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