Competent workforce is excluded from work life as the unemployment of highly educated women with a foreign background is prolonged

According to a study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, it is much more difficult for highly educated women with a foreign background to become employed in Finland than highly educated men with a foreign background or highly educated women with a Finnish background. The study investigated the transition of unemployed, highly educated people to work life in 2014–2019. According to the study, new, targeted measures to support the employment of women with a foreign background are needed and that it is important for workplaces to open their doors to competent women moving to Finland.
Ruskeaihoinen nainen ja valkoinen mies keskustelevat
Minna Toivanen
Minna Toivanen
Henkilökuva Ari Väänänen
Ari Väänänen

Press release 17 February 2023

The study investigated how unemployed women with intermediate-level or higher education who had moved to Finland or had a Finnish background were placed on different employment paths. A total of six different employment paths were identified: rapid employment, long-term unemployment, slow employment, transition to retirement, transition out of work life, and work via studies. 

Different employment paths for women with Finnish and foreign backgrounds

The study showed that the employment paths of educated women with a foreign background are typically different from the paths of women with a Finnish background and a similar level of education. Women with a Finnish background typically transition from unemployment to work life quicker (35% vs. women with a foreign background: 21%). The unemployment of women with a foreign background is easily prolonged (34% vs. women with a Finnish background: 25%) and they transition from unemployment to outside work life more frequently (14% vs. women with a Finnish background: 5.5%).

“The path leading outside work life can refer to, for example, a transition to family leave or emigration,” says Senior Specialist Minna Toivanen.
“Previous studies have shown that women with a foreign background are on family leave or homemakers more frequently than women from the native population. This phenomenon has been explained by a low level of education, for instance. However, this study shows that highly educated women with a foreign background are also more likely to remain outside work life than highly educated women with a Finnish background,” says Toivanen.

The competence of highly educated women with a foreign background is often unidentified – new, targeted measures for supporting employment are needed

In a comparison of the employment paths of highly educated women and those with intermediate-level degrees, it was discovered that a higher level of education boosted the transition to work life among those with a Finnish background (51% vs 34%). However, this was not the case among women with a foreign background. Regardless of the level of employment, only 23% of those with a foreign background were on the path of rapid employment.

“It is worrying that a highly educated workforce remains outside work life for extended periods of time and that their competence is easily unidentified and unutilized,” says Research Professor Ari Väänänen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

“We need new, targeted measures that support the employment of women with a foreign background who have care responsibilities or are on the path of long-term unemployment. As the social relationships of women who remain at home for long periods of time may be fragile and their language skills poor, measures for integrating the women and supporting their language skills are needed. This would not only support their activity in work life but also help them understand their children’s environment and support their children’s school attendance and life in general,” says Väänänen.

Workplaces should ease their language proficiency requirements

Workplaces should also view their own practices with a critical eye and open their doors to competent women moving to Finland.

For example, obstacles related to language differences and skills can be overcome by applying the principles of language-aware work, according to which the practices of the workplace are viewed from the perspective of language to remove any obstacles for involvement related to language.

Employment varies according to the country of origin

The frequency of different paths among women with a foreign background varies according to the country of origin.  Women born in Western Europe and other Western countries are typically on the path of rapid employment, whereas women from Africa and the Middle East are least likely to be on this path. Women with an African or Middle Eastern background were typically on the path of long-term unemployment or transition out of work life.

Settling into work life is typically studied with the employment rate, which particularly highlights the poor employment situation of women from Africa and the Middle East. However, of those who were initially unemployed, women with a Russian background were most likely to be on the path of long-term unemployment.

“In the future, more attention should be paid to the situation of educated women with a Russian background and why long-term unemployment is so common among them. This demographic group is also highly polarized with regard to work life status: employment is very high, but long-term unemployment is also common,” says Toivanen.

  • The Employment paths of unemployed educated women with foreign or Finnish backgrounds study was conducted as part of the Lifecon and Manifold more projects. Lifecon is a project funded by the Demography programme of the Strategic Research Council. The Manifold more project was funded by the ESF.
  • The data used was the nationally representative population-based Mental vulnerability in work life register data (33% of the working-age population), of which a longitudinal register study was carried out in 2014–2019. The data was limited to women aged 18–60 in 2013 with a foreign or Finnish background whose level of education was known (intermediate or high level) and who were unemployed at the beginning of the study at the end of 2013 (N=30,407).
  • The employment paths were analysed on the basis of changes in main activity, using sequence and cluster analyses. The links between country of origin and the different employment paths were studied using multinomial regression analysis.

Article

Employment paths of unemployed educated women with foreign or Finnish backgrounds (only summary in English) Yhteiskuntapolitiikka journal 1/23.  
Journal: https://yplehti.fi/

Further information

  • Senior Specialist Minna Toivanen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, minna.toivanen [at] ttl.fi (minna[dot]toivanen[at]ttl[dot]fi),
    tel. +358 (0)438244506
  • Research Professor Ari Väänänen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, ari.vaananen [at] ttl.fi (ari[dot]vaananen[at]ttl[dot]fi), tel.  +358 (0)50 511 0530

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