Women Leaders Index Gender Equality Case Study: Finland

By on 05/09/2017 | Updated on 26/03/2018
The Women leaders Index examines gender equality in Finland's senior civil service

Every country has a different story to tell on women leaders in the civil service. Interviewing experts on the findings of our Women Leaders Index – which tracks the proportion of female senior civil servants, national politicians and business leaders in G20 and EU member states – we’ve examined the agenda’s achievements and the remaining obstacles in 11 national case studies

Finland’s rapid rise up the EU table can be attributed to two major factors, according to Juha Sarkio – who oversees HR and governance issues for Finland’s finance department.

First, during the 1990s and early 2000s Finland underwent a huge programme of privatisation, shifting several operations and many thousands of individuals out of the civil service and into the private sector. Many of these services – which included road-building, traffic management, post offices, railways and universities – were heavily dominated by male staff and managers.

Before this process began, Finland’s public service was inhabited by 215,000 people; nowadays, just 72,000 remain. And the core civil service tended to have a higher proportion of women in leadership positions than these service delivery operations.

Alongside this, the country has seen a substantial rebalancing of the numbers of women entering and graduating from university, providing a much stronger pipeline of female talent for top jobs in all sectors.

“The number of women top civil servants has been increasing very rapidly and it will continue to increase over time because 75% of the students in Finnish universities now are women,” explains Sarkio. “That trend has been going on for ten years. The only sector where young men are in the majority are the technical sciences.”

Juha Sarkio, Director General of the Personnel and Governance Policy Department at Finland’s Ministry of Finance

University admission criteria are based heavily on candidates’ primary and secondary school results, where girls tend to do much better than boys.

While the overall civil service population is currently evenly split between males and females, more of the newcomers are women nowadays simply because they form the majority of graduates.

Sarkio adds that the civil service has ascertained that over the next ten years, 70% of its senior leaders now in post will retire. As in Sweden, Finland’s laws require that recruiters may only make civil service appointments on the basis of merit. And Sarkio believes that the larger pipeline of women will undoubtedly lead to more women taking on top roles in all departments except those traditionally dominated by men, such as military administration, police and security.

On a general policy level, Finland stipulates that parental leave can’t all be taken by one parent; one-third of it must be taken by the other. But despite this, the data shows that women still tend to take more parental leave than men. Discussions are now underway in Parliament as to whether the rules should be tightened so that mothers and fathers must share their leave equally.


Click here for the full results of Global Government Forum’s 2016-17 Women Leaders Index

Or click through to our case studies on Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Turkey and the UK.

About Tania Mason

Journalist and an expert in organisational and management issues.


  1. Murphy Miller says:

    Interesting that 75% of the students in Finnish Universities are women. I wonder what the reaction would be if the situation were reversed and 75% of the students were men? There would be screams of discrimination, etc. Such a double-standard!

    While this may make people “feel good,” the only thing truly relevant are the results. Does Finnish government function more efficiently and effectively with more women in leadership?

    It seems to me that government should be a reflection of the general population, if hiring is done in it’s purest sense. If the Finnish population is 75% women, then the same should be found in government and universities. If that is not the case, then there is a problem.

    • Maria says:

      Murphy, you do realise that people apply to go to university and need to qualify to be enrolled as students. I doubt that women are rounded up in the streets of Finland and forcibly placed in universities regardless of their educational abilities. Therefore, if 75 % of Finnish universities’ students are female, surely that is indicative of other factors such as percentage of females in the Finnish population, interest in higher education, academic prowess etc.

  2. Jen Dras says:

    In the U.S. if the gender population were reversed there would be a big investigation as to the social justice inequities that caused this disparity in education, but since men are the ones lagging, no one will care. Remember, its only an injustice when you are a minority!

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