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Study on Gender Equality and Inclusion in Lappish SMEs


Promoting gender equality and inclusive company culture increases profitability, helps attract employees, improves well-being at work and fosters innovation. But what’s the status of gender equality and inclusivity in SMEs in Lapland?

As part of the Interreg Europe funded DEBUTING project, Regional Council of Lapland, together with the Unit of the Education and Development Services of the University of Lapland, conducted a Regional Analysis of Gender Equality and Inclusivity in Lapland's SMEs, focusing in industrial subcontracting and tourism.

Finland is often considered as a forerunner in gender equality, although it has the fourth clearest gender segregation by industries in Europe. This applies also to  Lapland; 82% of industrial sector employees are men, while 87% of those working in health and social services are women. Segregation comes with many issues, such as limiting career choices, affecting the labour market position of women and men, and reinforcing stereotypes. Identifying gender-related perceptions, practices, and experiences and making them visible is therefore one of the key tasks of gender equality work.


Cultural Shift in both Industry and Tourism

In the study representatives from six companies were interviewed about their thoughts on gender equality and inclusivity.

The study emphasized a general cultural shift in both the industrial and tourism sectors. In the tourism sector many highlighted the influence of younger, more aware employees who work with diverse customers. Education, particularly focusing on interpersonal skills in customer service, was also seen as significant.

According to the study, positive developments in the industrial sector were influenced by generational shifts, which enabled new ways of doing things and changes in direction. A more balanced gender distribution has brought up new things, such as the need for social facilities for women. In a few companies, it was highlighted how the presence of young women in previously male-dominated staff had brought about positive impacts.


Positive Impact of Gender Equality and Inclusivity on Company Performance

Open dialogue and personal contact with management were highlighted in the section of the study assessing inclusivity. Organizational culture was perceived in the same way regardless of whether the interviewee represented management or employees. Flexibility emerged as an important organizational culture trait, enabling different life situations, thus facilitating gender equality.

Companies recognized that gender equality and inclusivity have a positive impact on company performance and operations, but there is a need to raise awareness. Only one interviewed company's employee directly stated that gender equality issues were not considered in the company and did not know if they were of interest. Gender-specific characteristics were not deeply recognized in the interviewed organizations.


Will to Develop Gender Equality and Inclusivity

The Unit of the Education and Development Services of the University of Lapland identified a willingness among companies to develop practices related to gender equality and inclusivity, and some companies had already made commendable progress in this regard. Important points for development included strengthening cooperation with educational institutions and the need for expert support. Especially companies in the industrial sector and local educational institutions can influence perceptions of industries and ensure diverse representation together.

A gender equality plan, to which many companies also have a legal obligation, was a clear target for development in the companies included in the study. Companies expressed willingness to create a gender equality plan, but external support would be needed to advance the work.


Gender equality