Gender equality in the work environment

A good work environment is important in order for women and men to be able to work longer and without the risk of ill-health. Today, women have higher sickness absenteeism than men, while more fatal accidents happen to men.
A man and a woman talking in front of a herd of cows

There is a great deal you as an employer can do to ensure that both men and women have a good work environment. Increased gender equality and gender-sensitive systematic work environment management can contribute to a better work environment for everyone.

More women become sick because of their work and more men are killed in accidents at work

The official statistics of the Swedish Work Environment Authority show that women are more likely to get sick due to their work, while men are more often affected by accidents requiring sick leave, and by death at work.

In 2016 the following were reported: women men
34600 occupational accidents with sick leave 14400 20300
64700 occupational accidents without sick leave 35300 29500
11800 occupational diseases 7500 4300
45 occupational accidents with fatal outcome, of which 37 were employed 4 33

During 2016, the number of reports of occupational diseases decreased. The decrease was greater among men (8 per cent) than among women, where the level was largely unchanged compared with 2015. For men, musculoskeletal factors are the most common cause of reported occupational diseases, while organisational or social factors are the most common cause of women's reported occupational diseases.

Tools to make the work environment more gender-equal

By working in a gender-sensitive way, you as an employer can enhance the quality of systematic work environment management. Please feel free to make use of the tools we have developed to make the work environment more gender-equal.

Get a discussion going on gender-equal working conditions with the help of a test

Working conditions often differ between female-dominated and male-dominated activities. Using our test, you can reveal, compare, and reflect on the prerequisites for a good work environment in different activities.

The questions in the test are about:

  • the mission of the organisation
  • the working conditions of the staff
  • communication, management and governance
  • demands and resources.

Print the test result and discuss it and the reflection questions at a workplace meeting or in a collaborative group. When you have reflected, discussed and decided what needs to be addressed, you can use the results as part of your systematic work environment management. Creating gender-equal organisations can demand many different types of efforts at different levels.

The test has been developed in collaboration with Annika Härenstam, professor of occupational science. The test is thus far only available in Swedish.

Use questions to spot inequality

In a folder called Genuskollen (so far only in Swedish) there are a number of questions grouped under six main issues:

  • how many men and women work in the organisation?
  • what do they work with?
  • are there gender-separated statistics?
  • are there any differences in the emotional burden in different jobs?
  • are there differences between female and male-dominated tasks regarding how the workplace is physically designed and physical strain?
  • are there any differences between female and male-dominated activities in how the work is organised, or in the working conditions?

In the brochure "How can the work environment be better for both women and men?" there are even more questions that can help you identify and assess risks and shortcomings in the work environment for all your employees.

How can the work environment be better for both women and men? (ADI 690), brochure, pfd, opens in a new window

Good work environment is a gender equality question

One conclusion from our government assignment on Women's Work Environment 2011-2016 is that the Swedish work environment is not gender-equal, and that gender-sensitive work environment management is required in order to visualise the structures that drive work-related ill-health. These are a few more conclusions:

  • In female-dominated work, the  prerequisites are worse, the risk of ill-health is greater and the risk of workers resigning as a result of ill-health or job dissatisfaction is higher.
  • Excessive physical and emotional stress in female-dominated work is the result of shortcomings in the work environment that affect both women and men - it is not a matter of biology but of the strain that is being experienced.
  • The highest sick-rate is related to organisational and social factors in the work environment. They must therefore be managed at organisational level and not at  individual level.
  • The values and norms that lie behind the fact that working conditions and work environment are not gender-equal must be questioned. The responsibility for changing working conditions and the work environment lies with the parties working in the workplace.

Read more in the report on the first years of the assignment and in the White Paper, which summarises the entire campaign about women's work environment.

White paper on womens work environment 2017, pdf, opens in a new window

Women’s work environment 2011-2014, report 2015:6, pdf, opens in a new window

The organisation makes the difference

One important lesson learned from the assignment is that the differences in the work environment and ill-health between women and men do not have biological causes. When women and men have the same duties, they usually suffer from the same difficulties. Instead, it is because the work is organised in different ways and that the distribution of resources differs.

See our short films about what makes a difference in women's and men's work environment. The films are in a playlist and are played sequentially.

Knowledge compilations about women’s and men’s work environment

In several of our knowledge compilations you can find current research on gender equality and the work environment. In one compilation that deals with a gender perspective on accidents and fatal accidents in working life, it emerges, among other things, that masculine cultures in male-dominated industries can affect working methods and risk taking.

Another knowledge compilation that deals with men’s and women’s working conditions,  shows that excessive demands and limited resources at work are generally linked to lower job satisfaction, an increased willingness to terminate employment, and poorer mental and physical health. It also shows that a larger proportion of women than men work part-time, have shift work, and report high demands and lower resources.

”Physical work, gender and health in working life” shows that the organisation of the work in a workplace is of great significance for the occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders. Women are affected more than men, and the primary reason is that women and men in the same profession work on different tasks, where women's tasks are more repetitive and hand-intensive. Thus, it is not women's physiology that leads to non gender-equal health, but how the work is organised.

A knowledge compilation about gender perspectives on work environment and work organisation shows, among other things, that gender knowledge and management's commitment is important in order to achieve sustainable changes in development activities.

Physical work, gender and health in working life, knowledge compilation 2013:9, pdf, opens in new window

Differences in work environment within a male-dominated and a female-dominated activity

In an inspection campaign, we compared the work environment of the male-dominated technical administration with the female-dominated home care services in more than 60 municipalities.

Summarised comparison - staff

Home care services Technical activities
Low degree of control and latitude for action at work Decent degreee of control and latitude for action at work
Difficulties in handling the high pressure of the work Able to handle the pressure of the work
Almost always stressed Sometimes stressed
Workload, staffing and other resources are not adapted to what is expected Workload, staffing and other resources are quite well adapted to what is expected

Summarised comparison - managers

Home care services Technical activities
73 per cent of managers have more than 30 employees 10 per cent of managers have more than 30 employees
Lack of time, a great deal of administration, many relationships, difficult to be present in the activities and support of the staff Decent amount of time to support staff, may be present and deal with problems in the daily activites 
Very pressured managers Pressured managers

The campaign showed, among other things, that the number of staff per manager in home care services is many times higher. Home care services generally also have poorer communication with decision makers, fewer support functions, smaller resources in terms of equipment, and poorer access to cars than the technical administration.

Inspections of female and male-dominated municipal activities, home care services and technical administration, report 2014 :3ENG, pdf, opens in new window

Seminars on organisation for a sustainable working life

In the autumn of 2014 we conducted four dialogue conferences for politically elected representatives, managers, safety representatives, and work environment and gender equality strategists, primarily in the country's municipalities.

The conference was about how we can create a working life that is sustainable up to retirement age for both women and men.

Among the speakers were Professor Svend Erik Mathiassen, Center for Musculoskeletal Research, Gävle University; Professor Annika Härenstam, Work Science, University of Gothenburg and fil.dr. Tina Kankkunen, Department of Sociology, Stockholm University and representatives from the Swedish Work Environment Authority. At the conferences, municipalities also participated with learning examples.

We are one of many authorities that work with gender equality

Creating rules and carrying out inspections that reveal the different work environment prerequisites for women and men does not only mean that we, as an authority, contribute to the gender equality policy goals in Sweden. It is also a question of ensuring the quality of our activities. Some years ago, we were given a specific task to gender mainstream our activities.

The website includegender.org functions as a platform to disseminate results and experiences from the work of the authorities.

includegender, opens external webpage

Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån, SCB) publishes the book "Women and men in Sweden" every second year. It contains easily accessible tables and charts with current statistics on women and men in a wide range of areas.

Women and men in Sweden, opens SCB's webpage

How can the work environment be better for both women and men? (ADI 690 Eng), brochure

Omslagsbild ADI 685 - Hur kan arbetsmiljön bli bättre för både kvinnor och män
In this folder we give some examples of how you, as an employer, can increase the quality of your work environment by means of a gender perspective. In Sweden, more women than men are sick-listed from work.

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Last updated 2017-09-14