NFU Blog

Gender equality in the finance sector

Today, on International women’s day, I would like to highlight the gender equality in the finance sector. As set out by the NFU vision, “NFU strives to make the financial sectors prosper in a way that is sustainable for employees, companies, consumers and society”. For me, this vision for the finance sector is not possible without gender equality, and we as trade unions have an important role in promoting this at the workplace.

Gender equality in Europe

The finance sector in Europe is a sector that is, in comparison, gender equal when it comes to how many women and men that are employed in the sector.[1] The overall gender pay gap in all sectors in Europe was 13% in 2020, with only Sweden, out of the Nordic countries, at lower levels (11,2%).[2] Finland 16,7%, Denmark 13,9% Norway 13,4%, Iceland 13%.

The financial sector reports the highest overall salaries in Europe but is also the sector with the largest gender pay gap, at approximately 28%.[3] What is interesting to see is that the sectors that have the best gender balance amongst employees, and the highest overall wages (including finance) are the ones with the highest gender pay gaps.

The statistics is telling and do really show that there is a large problem with equal pay in the financial sector. Other aspects of gender equality are harassment and sexual abuse, unequal career opportunities and issues connected to work life balance.

The Nordic finance trade unions are highlighting gender equality

I am proud to see that the NFU affiliates have gender equality high up on the political agendas. Finansförbundet in Sweden for example, has for a long time had a special project on equal pay together with the employer’s organisation BAO. All the NFU affiliates are addressing equal pay, equal opportunities and inclusion, harassment, and abuse of female employees.

NFU is currently working on a report on the wellbeing and quality work environment for employees in the finance sector that will be released later this year. In the report, there are indications that gender equality is a large problem that takes different shapes and an issue that the affiliates are addressing.

NFU affiliate Forena presents the analysis that the gender pay gap in the sector is closely connected to the unequal opportunities in the sector. At many insurance companies the entry level salaries are the same for men and women, and at lower and middle management level, there are many females, but the share of women at higher management positions and in boards are significantly lower. This is driving the gender pay gap.

Another analysis by trade union Pro is that the remote work during the pandemic has made the work life balance easier for women. More women than men say that they have enjoyed being able to work from home, mostly because it has helped in managing the life puzzle.

European initiatives on gender equality

Gender equality is high on the European Commission’s agenda. Reducing the gender pay gap is one of the key priorities of gender policies. The Commission prioritised ”reducing the gender pay, earnings and pension gaps and thus fighting poverty among women” as one of the key areas in the framework of the strategy: A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025.

Right now, the proposed directive on Gender pay transparency[4] is discussed and debated in the EU machinery. This initiative is part of the Gender equality strategy and is intended to make sure that member states work for equal pay for equal work and that gender should not be a ground for different pay. The strategy also includes the Gender pay gap action plan, the Work life balance directive and the Women-on-boards directive.

In the social dialogue for insurance, the social partners are in the closing stages on adopting a Joint declaration on Diversity, Inclusion and non-discrimination. Gender equality and combatting gender discrimination are central aspects of the declaration. In the Bank social dialogue, the social partners adopted last year a Joint declaration on Remote work and new technologies. A central theme in the declaration is that there should be equal opportunities to remote work, connecting to the EU data on that the pandemic has been a major challenge for gender equality.

Raising awareness and addressing the issue

The most important task to make sure that the finance sector is gender equal, is to continue to raise awareness of the sectors challenges and address them. As I said in the beginning, I am absolutely sure that the trade unions have an extremely important role to play here. Collective bargaining is the most powerful means to reduce the gender pay gap, promote the principle of equal pay and provide women with equal opportunities.

Even if the Nordics have come far in tackling gender inequalities, the issue is still present and a major problem that needs to be addressed. We must all work for a financial sector where equal pay for equal work is standard, where there are equal opportunities for men and women, a sector without harassment and abuse of female employees, and where we celebrate diversity and inclusion. Only then can we truly make the financial sectors prosper in a way that is sustainable for employees, companies, consumers and society.

Carin Hallerström
General secretary Nordic Financial Unions

[1] Gender equality at work (europa.eu)

[2] Gender pay gap statistics – Statistics Explained (europa.eu)

[3] Understanding the gender pay gap: What role do sector and occupation play? (europa.eu)

[4] EU action for equal pay | European Commission (europa.eu)

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