HR specialists Aino Lääkkölä-Pyykönen and Susanna Puustinen believe that people are very rarely aware of their own prejudices.

In English

• 06.05.2020

Towards equality and non-discrimination in work life

The Non-discrimination Act stipulates the equal treatment of people regardless of their work task and background. How is this carried out in practice?

The City of Helsinki suffers from the lack of workforce.

– We have to use all available means of hiring workers. Our aim is to make the City of Helsinki the very best workplace. This means accepting and appreciating diversity and allowing people to be genuinely themselves, ensuring a positive work climate, and promoting job satisfaction. It is possible for us to achieve all this, says Nina Gros, personnel manager of the City of Helsinki.

The City is also developing different kinds of recruitment methods. One of these is anonymous recruitment, which Gros thinks is a good way to find suitable employees, and at the same time broaden the thinking so that no one will be dismissed for the wrong reasons.

Know-how first – prejudices revealed

Aino Lääkkölä-Pyykkönen is an HR (human resources) specialist, working in the personnel acquisitions unit of the City of Helsinki.

– In anonymous recruitment, the first-stage recruiter sees the applicant’s summary CV which does not reveal the person’s name, address, date or place of birth, educational institutes or mother tongue. The applicant can write briefly why he or she is applying namely for the job in question, and include any special qualifications or abilities, explains Lääkkölä-Pyykönen.

In all recruitment, it is important to first consider carefully and define exactly the requirements of the task in question, and the obligatory know-how of the person needed for the job. These include criteria related to education and training, work experience and know-how. Language skill requirements must correspond with the demands of the work.

Lääkkölä-Pyykönen believes that people are rarely aware of their own prejudices.

– Anonymous recruitment is an important experience also for those of us who carry out the recruiting and for HR personnel, so I believe we will learn a lot. Of course the most important goal of the recruitment process is to find a suitable person. We hope that anonymous recruiting will lower the threshold for an applicant to get a job interview. The actual selection will be made according to the same criteria as in normal recruitment.

We hope that anonymous recruiting will lower the threshold for an applicant to get a job interview.

Non-discrimnation is a broad concept

Minna Toivonen, senior specialist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, has noted that equality and non-discriminating behaviour are gradually developing in a positive direction in work life.

– The Act on Equality between Women and Men defines equality between the genders. Non-discrimination, on the other hand, is defined in the Non-discrimination Act. It covers age, ethnic origin, nationality, language, religion, conviction, health status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, and so on. It is a broader concept than equality between women and men, says Toivonen.

Non-discrimination is a rather complex entity.

– All people must be treated equally, regardless of their background. But what is equal and fair treatment in work life? It doesn’t always mean that people must be treated in exactly the same way. Sometimes it means that special needs are taken into consideration, and the same opportunities to work are offered while taking into account the diversity among individuals.

The Quality of Work Life Survey published in 2018 by Statistics Finland investigated the observations and experiences of discrimination at work by interviewing employees.

– The survey revealed that discrimination is often experienced from the part of the supervisor, but also workmates and customers were mentioned. Age is a common determining variable of discrimination among young as well as older people. Experiences of unfairness were related to pay, work tasks, opportunities for career advancement, ending of work, and treatment of immigrants because of their poorer knowledge of Finnish. Supervisors have a decisive role in supporting a person’s career advancement or developing their know-how. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in developing the ways of working in the work community.

Experiences of unfairness were related to pay, work tasks, opportunities for career advancement, ending of work, and treatment of immigrants because of their poorer knowledge of Finnish.

The plans for supporting diversity and non-discrimination should be handled together at workplaces. What is the role of the management, or of the enterprise’s strategy?

– Studies have shown that observations of discrimination have decreased somewhat, whereas the language used by certain groups has become tougher. On the other hand, the subjective experiences of discrimination have not decreased.

Helsingin kaupungista kehitetään työpaikka, jossa huomioidaan erilaisuus, jossa saa olla oma itsensä ja jonne on kiva tulla töihin, kertoo Helsingin kaupungin henkilöstöjohtaja Nina Gros.

– Our goal is to make the City of Helsinki into a workplace where differences are appreciated and individuals can be genuinely themselves, says personnel manager Nina Gros.

A pioneer of tolerance

Because it is the capital city, Helsinki attracts more attention than other municipalities. It is thus important that Helsinki sets an example for many value-based questions. These are: open dialogue, tolerance, transparent governance, as well as equality among its citizens and among the municipal personnel.

The personnel manager of the City of Helsinki, Nina Gros, came from the private sector where she had worked in several enterprises in managerial roles for over 20 years. She was positively surprised already when she became familiar with the operations and efficient work morale of the City of Helsinki, as well as its instruction booklets, documents and ethical principles.

Everyone should have the chance to participate in developing the ways of doing things in the work community.

– The City has a clear-cut strategy and concrete plans and time-tables for improving equality and overall fairness and positive interaction among its personnel as well as all citizens. The Non-discrimination Act stipulates that a plan on how to prevent discrimination must be drawn up. Every employee must be free to carry out his or her work well without experiencing inappropriate comments, harassment or any discrimination.

One example of the measures taken in the equality plan was to change job titles of city employees so that they are gender neutral, for instance, fireman was replaced by fire fighter, and policeman by police officer, among others.

Pay attention to your own attitudes

Inspired by the non-discrimination plan, the City’s personnel department created a virtual moderator, Helvi. Its purpose is to influence the attitudes of all City employees so that they will notice their own biased views and learn to appreciate people’s differences and diversity in society. Intolerance can be subconscious. With Helvi’s support, work communities discuss selected topics and together draw up a list of positive views which everyone agrees to respect.

The Helvi session is an hour-long video and group discussion package that contains also some exercises.

– One of the goals of this group discussion is to encourage people to be aware of their possible prejudices and negative attitudes. How should one behave at work? What kind of attitudes are conveyed to work-mates, customers and citizens? ponders Susanna Puustinen, HR specialist of the City of Helsinki.

Aino Lääkkölä-Pyykönen ja Susanna Puustinen

Aino Lääkkölä-Pyykönen and Susanna Puustinen are pleased to have a new virtual moderator, which helps people to adjust their views regarding diversity and differences between people.

Every one of the City’s about 38 000 employees will participate in the training together with their work community by the end of next year.

– If each person will take even a tiny step in the desired direction, it will have a great impact on a big organization, Puustinen points out.

From supported employment to work life

– It is important that also disabled persons and those with partial work capacity are taken into consideration in the plans of the City, says leading work coach Sami Niemi-Ruuth from the supported employment service unit of the City of Helsinki.

Some of the customers of the service unit have partial work capacity, while others have full work capacity. The unit supports their entrance into work life by teaching certain work life skills.

– At the moment we are promoting the employment process of 270 customers. We provide support services which help to get the persons employed. We also have many customers with an immigrant background. Our work affects a wide variety of people, Niemi-Ruuth says.

Many immigrants find it difficult to find work because of poor language skills. Similarly, problems in communicating also hinder the employment of persons with physical and mental disabilities or autism.

Our goal is to influence employers’ attitudes – all jobs do not require perfect fluency in Finnish.

– Our goal is to influence employers’ attitudes. All jobs do not require perfect fluency in Finnish. It is possible to organize the work so that it can be done by using other ways of communication, like simplified instructions. Last year we found employment for 195 of our 273 customers.

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