Editorial May 2007
First Female government a Fact
On April 23rd the first-ever cabinet in which women hold a majority was installed in Finland. A world record in this European Year of Equal Opportunities. How did this happen? What can we learn from this?
Record holder on equality
Finland has an impressive track record on gender equality. In 1906 Finnish women were the first in Europe to be granted the right of suffrage in general elections and the first in the world to have the right of eligibility. Today, 42% of members of parliament are women and female labour force participation is one of the highest in Europe with 67% (against 70% for men). It came to no surprise then that the ‘world record’ according to the international press went to Finland when the first female president Tarja Halonen installed 12 women and 8 men in the new cabinet under the leadership of the –male- prime minister Matti Vanhanen.
How did this happen? In 1995 Finland introduced quota legislation to create the necessary social and cultural change. The quota system was deemed necessary to safeguard the democratic values of the country’s leadership, as expressed in the mission statement of the ministry for gender equality: “Gender equality creates democracy”. From then onwards, in official government committees and councils the proportion of representatives of either sex should not be less than 40%. The policy was also applicable to majority and fully state-owned corporations, resulting in an almost 40% female representation on the boards of these companies ten years later.
Gender equality creates democracy ….and innovation
Once a country dependant on exporting paper and wood, Finland is now widely recognized as Europe’s role model for innovation. Half of the companies have cooperation agreements with universities and 3.6% of GNP is invested in Research and Development (almost double the EU average of 1.9%). It seems that social and technological innovation went hand in hand. The active promotion of gender diversity has been a vital component of the country’s successful transition to a knowledge economy. Companies convinced of the business case for gender diversity will recognize the experience, i.e. that diversity creates innovation and more democratic leadership styles.
Finding the right man…
World records are there to be beaten. Paradoxically Finland cannot beat the record it has set. There will never be a Finnish government of say, 16 female ministers and 4 male ministers. Nor will the Finnish cabinet ever consist of 25% women ministers, which seems to be widely accepted as a norm in the rest of Europe. If fewer than 8 men were appointed, the Finnish government could be sued for discrimination. This means that Finnish men will never be marginalized in government; they will always be able to protect their rights on equal representation and democracy in court. Even if it would be impossible to find a man with the right experience and education to become minister, the prime minister would have to widen the search until the right man was found, perhaps by looking in different networks, sectors, industries and by including those with different career paths and backgrounds….. Not finding the right man is simply not an option.
From Fear to Force
Finland has recognized that gender equality is not a women’s issue but one of society as a whole and vital to its democracy. The quota system strengthens both women’s and men’s positions and is tied to the legitimacy of leadership in the democracy. The effect has been that Finnish men went from fearing quota to actively enforcing them. At the same time Finnish women went from being ‘mothers and marginalized’ to being ‘mothers and motors of social innovation’. The Finnish world record shows that quota ‘of the inclusive kind’ can help create an environment of innovation and democracy. If nothing else, it should inspire the European prime ministers in this Year of Equal Opportunities. Because the words innovation, diversity, democratic leadership and equal opportunities do not immediately come to mind looking at this recent picture of European leaders…..