|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
Finns are justifiably proud of their history in gender equality. Few countries around the world have voted in female presidents, prime ministers, or cabinet ministers in the numbers that Finland has. France has never had a female president, and neither have the US, Italy, or Spain.
But in the business sector the record is dismal. Women make up a tiny minority of directorships, and are almost exclusively in under-valued fields like HR. A list of Finnish companies in which women lead production, sales or marketing would fit on the head of a pin.
This, however, is not my point. The greater issue here is what this says about Finnish society and our ability to adapt to societal trends. How are Finnish companies adapting to a world in which prejudice against any people for any reason is considered unacceptable?
How many openly gay executives are there in Finland? How many directors of African or Middle Eastern origin? How many Muslims or Hindu?
Not surprisingly, in each case the numbers are lower than those in society.
What is so baffling about this is that Finnish people are genuinely tolerant and open minded. If the Finnish people can accept gay contestants on Dancing With Stars, in parliament and on TV chat shows, why would they not accept that as managers? Finland came within a few thousand votes of electing the first openly gay head of state in the developed world, and actually there are a handful of MPs from ethnic backgrounds that at least forge a path for others to follow.
In an era where Finns of African origin read TV news, write books, sing and run small businesses – and all in faultless Finnish - how long will it be before a major business hires one as a CFO?
If the experience of Finnish women is a model, then that may be a very long time indeed.
The situation in the business world is effectively untouched since the 1970s. In a country where trends like organic food, micro-brewing, Fair Trade and carbon offset schemes arrived 20 years later than they did Sweden or Denmark, attitudes towards a genuinely non-prejudicial society remain prehistoric.
In this case, perhaps we need only look west for inspiration. Not only does the US have an African-American president, but even the ultra-conservative Republican Party is likely to have a black or Hispanic candidate for the next elections. There are literally thousands of Asian-American and Hispanic-American business leaders. Race is simply not the issue in the US or UK that it was even 20 years ago.
Finland can still play a leadership role here. As the first European country to allow women the vote, my hope is that Finland can also be the first European country to eliminate prejudice on the basis of race or gender orientation.
But if these issues genuinely do not matter, then that must be reflected in boardrooms as well.