1. Discrimination at workplaces

Gender-based discrimination directed at women has, according to observations made by employees, decreased over the past good 15 years at Finnish workplaces. There are also fewer observations of discrimination based on having a family or being pregnant than in the late 1990s. Even though age discrimination is usually discussed as a problem among the ageing population, age discrimination directed at young age is observed at workplaces nearly as often as age discrimination towards ageing people. Employees aged under 30 report that they have experienced unequal treatment or discrimination based on their age even more often than employees aged over 50. These data derive from the preliminary data of the Quality of Work Life Survey 2013.

According to Statistics Finland's Quality of Work Life Survey 2013, employees have noticed most commonly unequal treatment or discrimination based on favouritism at workplaces, which is reported by one-fifth (21%) of employees. The second most common (15%) form of discrimination was based on the impermanence of the employment relationship or on part-time employment. In these terms, the situation has remained almost unchanged since 1997. The third most common form of detected discrimination was based on health or disability (12%), which was inquired in this form for the first time only in 2013.

Figure 1. Share of employees that have observed unequal treatment or discrimination at their workplace (%), by grounds for discrimination

Figure 1. Share of employees that have observed unequal treatment or discrimination at their workplace (%), by grounds for discrimination
Source: Quality of Work Life Surveys 1997, 2003, 2008 and 2013, Statistics Finland

Nearly one-tenth of employees have observed age discrimination towards aged people (9%) at their workplace, but nearly as many have also detected age discrimination directed at young people (8%). The share of these observations has contracted only marginally from 1997.

By contrast, gender-based discrimination directed at women has decreased over the past some 15 years according to both female and male employees. This type of discrimination has been detected at the workplace by six per cent of employees in 2013, while the corresponding figure in 1997 was nine per cent. Also, clearly less discrimination based on a person having a family or being pregnant is found today (4%) than in 1997 (7%).

Six per cent of all employees have observed discrimination based on insufficient skills in the national language and four per cent have noticed discrimination based on nationality or the colour of one’s skin. However, the shares are nine and six per cent among employees who have workers of foreign background at their workplace. Only little gender discrimination directed at men (2%) and discrimination based on political opinion or participation in trade union activities (3%) is observed in Finnish workplaces, as well as discrimination based on sexual orientation (2%). Women have noticed various forms of discrimination more frequently than men.

Table 1. Share of employees that have observed unequal treatment or discrimination at their workplace (%), by gender and grounds for discrimination

  1997 2003 2008 2013
Favouritism Women 23 24 25 24
Men 18 16 17 17
Impermanence of employment relationship or part-time employment Women 16 21 19 19
Men 13 11 11 11
Health or disability Women .. .. .. 14
Men .. .. .. 9
Age, directed at young people Women 8 8 10 8
Men 11 9 10 8
Age, directed at aged people Women 11 10 11 10
Men 10 6 8 7
Gender, directed at women Women 12 9 9 8
Men 6 3 4 3
Insufficient skills in Finnish or Swedish Women .. .. 6 7
Men .. .. 5 5
Having a family or pregnancy Women 10 7 7 6
Men 3 3 2 3
Nationality or colour of one's skin Women .. 4 5 3
Men .. 3 3 4
Political opinions or participation in trade union activities Women .. 3 4 3
Men .. 4 4 4
Gender, directed at men Women 3 2 1 2
Men 3 2 3 2
Sexual orientation Women .. 3 2 1
Men .. 2 3 2
Source: Quality of Work Life Surveys 1997, 2003, 2008 and 2013, Statistics Finland

Less discrimination is usually observed in smaller workplaces of under ten employees than in larger workplaces. The connection between the size of the workplace and observation of discrimination is most clearly visible in discrimination directed at women, age discrimination directed at aged people and discrimination based on favouritism. They all become more commonplace the larger the workplace is. There are some sector-specific differences in observing discrimination depending on the reason for discrimination. Age discrimination directed at ageing people and gender-based discrimination directed at women have been detected most in the central government sector (excl. universities), as has discrimination based on political opinion or participation in trade union activities. The difference is particularly high in discrimination based on favouritism: one-third (33%) of central government sector employees have noticed such discrimination, while only around one-fifth in the local government sector (22%) and in the private sector (19%) have detected such discrimination.

In local government sector workplaces more discrimination based on having a family or being pregnant and based on health or disability has been detected than elsewhere. Discrimination based on the type of employment relationship is nearly two times as common in the central and local government sectors than in the private sector. On the other hand, there are no differences between the sectors when it comes to discrimination based on nationality or the colour of one’s skin, nor in discrimination directed at young people.

When interpreting the results of the Quality of Work Life Survey it should be noted that they concern employees' observations of discrimination at their workplaces. Employees do not necessarily observe discrimination that takes place when recruiting new employees; if discrimination occurs already at this stage there will not be workers belonging to a certain minority that could be discriminated against at the workplace.

1.1. Personal experiences of discrimination

Persons that have observed discrimination in their workplace are further asked whether they have personally experienced discrimination or unequal treatment. A total of eight per cent of all employees have experienced discrimination based on favouritism: 11 per cent of women and six per cent of men. The proportions are the same as in 2008. Compared to 1997, the proportion has decreased by one percentage point for men and increased by three percentage points for women.

Three per cent of all employees interviewed in 2013 (women 4%, men 1%) have experienced discrimination based on the impermanence of the employment relationship or on part-time employment. The shares are naturally higher for persons working in fixed-term or part-time employment relationships. Nine per cent of fixed-term employees (women 13%, men 3%) and seven per cent of part-time employees (women 9%, men 2%) report that they have experienced discrimination based on the impermanence of their employment relationship or on part-time employment.

Two per cent of all employees have experienced age discrimination directed at young people and two per cent age discrimination towards aged people. Examined by age group, it is interesting that among aged people personal experiences of discrimination directed at old age have decreased but age discrimination experienced by young people has actually increased. Of persons aged under 30, six per cent (women 5%, men 7%) reported that they had experienced discrimination directed at their young age in 1997, while in 2013 the corresponding share had increased to eight per cent (women 10%, men 5%). Correspondingly, of employees aged over 50, seven per cent (women 8%, men 6%) reported that they had experienced discrimination directed at their old age in 1997, but only four per cent (women 5%, men 2%) in 2013.

The share of women who have experienced gender discrimination themselves (4%) has decreased by one percentage point from the late 1990s (5%). During the entire survey period, around two per cent of male employees have personally experienced discrimination directed at men and around two per cent of all employees have experienced discrimination based on having a family or being pregnant or based on political opinion or participation in trade union activities.

1.2. Discrimination situations

The Quality of Work Life Survey also asks about situations in which the respondent has experienced unequal treatment or discrimination in the past five years at his or her current workplace.

These situations are usually connected with receiving information (17%) and the attitudes of co-workers and supervisors (16%). People also quite often experience discrimination in being appreciated (14%). The change has been very low in this regard in the 2000s. By contrast, the discrimination experienced in remuneration has diminished by a couple of percentage points since 2008. This is especially visible for women, among whom the share has decreased from 15 to 12 per cent in ten years. Women report having experienced discrimination more often in all inquired situations than men.

Figure 2. Has personally experienced unequal treatment or discrimination in the past five years at the workplace. Share (%) of employees by discrimination situation

Figure 2. Has personally experienced unequal treatment or discrimination in the past five years at the workplace. Share (%) of employees by discrimination situation
Source: Quality of Work Life Surveys 2003, 2008 and 2013, Statistics Finland

Table 2. Has personally experienced unequal treatment or discrimination in the past five years at the workplace. Share (%) of employees by discrimination situation

  2003 2008 2013
In receiving information Women 20 20 19
Men 14 14 14
In the attitudes of co-workers and supervisors Women 20 21 19
Men 10 12 12
In being appreciated Women 17 19 17
Men 11 10 10
In remuneration Women 15 14 12
Men 11 11 9
In distribution of work shifts Women 13 13 12
Men 7 7 7
In accessing training Women 10 11 10
Men 6 6 5
In possibilities of advancement Women 9 9 8
Men 6 7 7
In recruitment, appointment situations Women 8 7 6
Men 6 5 3
In receiving employee benefits Women 6 7 6
Men 4 4 5
Source: Quality of Work Life Surveys 2003, 2008 and 2013, Statistics Finland

Private sector employees have experienced least discrimination in specific situations. Employees in the central government sector (excl. universities) have more experiences of discrimination in possibilities of advancement, being appreciated, remuneration and in recruitment and appointment situations than in other workplaces. People working in the local government sector report unequal treatment in acquisition of information, accessing training and distribution of work and shifts more often than people working in other sectors.

In the Quality of Work Life Survey 2013, respondents were asked whether they felt they belonged to some minority. The employees who felt they belonged to some ethnic minority reported experiencing more unequal treatment or discrimination than other employees, especially when it comes to being appreciated (21% vs. 14%), accessing training (15% vs. 8%), and possibilities of advancement (18% vs. 8%). They had also experienced somewhat more discrimination in terms of the attitudes of co-workers and supervisors (20% vs. 16%). In other situations (remuneration, distribution of work or shifts, receiving information, employee benefits), persons belonging to an ethnic minority do not feel they have experienced discrimination any more often than other employees. There are, however, only 61 persons in the survey that identify themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority so the results can only be seen as indicative.

1.3. Reasons for discrimination in different situations

In the Quality of Work Life Survey 2013, persons who had experienced unequal treatment or discrimination in different situations were further asked what in their opinion has been the reason for the discrimination in the situation in question. The respondent was able select several options.

Appendix table 1 shows the share of employees among all employees who have reported experiencing unequal treatment or discrimination in a specific situation based on a particular reason. Only the reasons for discrimination where the share of employees having experienced discrimination in a particular situation exceeds 0.5 per cent of all employees are listed as a basis for discrimination in the table.

Appendix table 1 shows that unequal treatment in receiving information and in attitudes based on favouritism is the most common (5%) form of discrimination among all employees. In addition, five per cent of women have experienced unequal treatment based on their gender in receiving appreciation and four per cent in both remuneration and attitudes.

Viewing age discrimination by target group sheds more light on the subject. Employees under the age of 30 have experienced unequal treatment based on their young age in receiving appreciation (8%) and in attitudes (8%) even more commonly than people aged over 50 have experienced discrimination in similar situations based on their age (3% and 2%). Among young employees, four per cent feel they have suffered from their age in distribution of work or shifts, while the corresponding share for persons aged over 50 is one per cent. Three per cent of young people feel they have been treated unequally in possibilities of advancement due to their age, two per cent for persons aged over 50. Three per cent of young people have experienced discrimination in remuneration and receiving information, two per cent in employee benefits and one per cent in accessing training and in recruitment and appointment situations. In all of these situations, the share of persons aged over 50 who have experienced discrimination based on their age is one per cent.

As a closer examination of age discrimination shows, it is somewhat problematic to study personal experiences of discrimination using the type of data as in the Quality of Work Life Survey. In practice, you can only experience discrimination based on a particular reason if you belong to the group that could potentially be discriminated against based on the reason in question. For instance, only disabled persons can experience discrimination based on a disability. Thus, the prevalence of personal experiences of discrimination among employees partially reflects the proportional share of the different target groups among employees and how well the sample survey manages to reach the various target groups. In addition, it should be noted that the Quality of Work Life Survey has in principle only been directed at respondents who have been able to handle the approximately one-hour long interview in Finnish or Swedish: employees with immigrant background are underrepresented in the sample.

Unequal treatment and discrimination, especially when experienced personally, is a challenging survey subject. The topic can be sensitive for many respondents. Interpretations of what unequal treatment is in different situations or on what the experienced inequity has been based can also vary between respondents and at different times. The respondent is not always able to specify the reason for the discrimination he or she has experienced, as the percentage shares in Appendix table 1 under "Other reason or hard to specify" indicates. Regardless of this, the Quality of Work Life Survey can be considered a relatively reliable tool for measuring the experiences of employees in terms of discrimination as well: the sample is large, the response rate is high, the questions have remained virtually unchanged for as long as 15 years and the survey is conducted with a reliable face-to-face interview method.

The results of the Quality of Work Life Survey draw a cautiously optimistic picture of a decrease in gender-related discrimination in working life in the 2000s. It is also positive that the appreciation of ageing employees in working life does not seem to have weakened, although this survey does not include discrimination of ageing people in recruitment. The results regarding age discrimination show that we should also turn our eyes to what type of treatment young people face at workplaces when talking about age discrimination.


Source: Quality of Work Life Survey, Statistics Finland

Inquiries: Hanna Sutela 09 1734 2907, Anna-Maija Lehto 09 1734 3223, tyoelama@stat.fi

Director in charge: Riitta Harala


Updated 20.5.2014

Referencing instructions:

Official Statistics of Finland (OSF): Quality of work life [e-publication].
ISSN=2342-2890. 02 2013, 1. Discrimination at workplaces . Helsinki: Statistics Finland [referred: 7.3.2021].
Access method: http://www.stat.fi/til/tyoolot/2013/02/tyoolot_2013_02_2014-05-15_kat_001_en.html