• Mihaela Nyyssönen, Zoi Vasileiou, Natalia Stalchenko

Worklife Utopia – One Step in Making It a Reality?

In the field of education, we often talk about equity as a key value of an education system. At the same time, we only focus on how to implement this value at the students’ level. As future teachers and education professionals, we have been increasingly interested in how the working field in our area of expertise is considering equity at the employee level. We believe that equity is the main element that brings together and gives sense to the more talked about concepts of diversity and inclusion. Meeting the employee’s individual needs and interests and working towards creating fair employment, promotion, and wellbeing opportunities are essential in the educational arena.


In a recent report on discrimination in the working life in Finland released by the Ministry of Justice, it is highlighted that even though the situation in Finland is continuing to improve, discrimination based on ethnicity, skin color, sexual orientation, disability, health, and age is still a big problem in the working life of our society. The report also acknowledges the fact that during the time under review (2017-2019), there has been no research done in Finland about the attitudes towards minority groups, and this report uses the data of the Eurobarometer survey of the European Union. More specifically, in the field of education there are still challenges in drawing up equality plans and following them through, and cases of structural discrimination that are yet in need to be brought to the surface. The lack of studies related to working life equity in the field of education is striking and the gap needs to be filled in soon if we are to address many of the issues that are happening in the field.


Considering the current situation, One Step Ahead ry (OSA) and Condus ry, two student organizations at the faculty of education at the University of Helsinki have joined forces to create the space where students, key agents from academia, and working field stakeholders discuss the pressing matter of equity among employees. The topics of focus of the Worklife Utopia event are the teachers with immigrant backgrounds, language, and qualification recognition issues, the LGBTQ+ community representation and inclusion in the field, matters related to the people with disabilities and gender in education.

In this first part of a two-series blog article, we will cover the topic of inequity and diversity in terms of culture as well as health and disability, while the next part will discuss diversity in terms of age, gender, and sexual orientation. These topics will be further discussed in more detail and depth during our Worklife Utopia conference on the 10th of November, 2021. Visit our Facebook event page to learn more, or check OSA website to see information about our current and past projects.


Diversity in Terms of Culture


Following the increased immigration in Finland, the number of educators with diverse cultural backgrounds is growing in the Finnish educational scene. Immigrant personnel brings along their diverse experiences, different cultures, values, voices, and ideas to educational settings, creating a unique cultural diversity mosaic.


Cox (1994) defines Cultural Diversity as the representation, in one social system of people with distinctly different group affiliations of cultural significance. Even though cultural diversity often breeds creativity and innovative ideas through interpersonal cooperation and collaboration, creating a utopic multicultural workplace brings along the way several challenges as well. How do educators with immigrant backgrounds experience multiculturalism and diversity in their WorkLife in Finland? As mentioned above, usually when we talk about multicultural education, we refer to the students, but are teachers equipped with the tools needed to thrive in their culturally diverse workplaces? What are the challenges and rewards teachers in Finland experience in their everyday working life?


Even though the matter has been discussed on a global scale there is still the need for local research in this field in Finland. We would like to open the dialogue and further discuss and re-consider practices and ideas. In addition to that, we would like to emphasize the importance of including the course of social justice in education in teacher’s education which would qualify teachers to have preparedness to work in diverse working environments, being able to collaborate and interact. Several scholars argue that the quality of collaboration, the support given by the administration and colleagues, the interpersonal relationships between the educators and the mentors in the schools, and the acceptance of the school’s and the student’s parents are central factors of importance for the professional integration of teachers.


In 2020, Liu Haiqin analyzed in her report that immigrant teachers tend to face similar integration challenges due to the qualification recognition practices, the mistrust and lack of cooperation with local teachers, and the mismatch in teaching practices. Furthermore, a recent union TEK report states that immigrants suffer lower pay, pre-justice, and discrimination in Finland’s labor market where unnecessary language requirements are in place as well. In addition to that, Koskinen-Sinisalo reports that the most common challenges immigrant teachers encounter in Finland are related to the recognition of their professional skills and the challenges they face to build a strong professional identity in the host country. Investing in a teacher’s professional development is of immense importance as it is interlinked with their overall well-being and performance in the working field. When teachers are well, students will flourish as well.

Diversity in Terms of Health and Disability


When speaking of discrimination in a working field, health and disability is a topic that is often overlooked in social, academic, and political discussions. Nevertheless, this issue remains highly relevant in our current society and more actions, including research and political reforms, are needed. Despite being one of the largest social minorities, as 2019 research states, people with disabilities get less recognition and popularity when it comes to discrimination. Even the term ableism, which defines such discrimination and devaluation of disability, is far less popular than other discourses around marginalized groups. Meanwhile, the latest report from the Finnish Ministry of Justice states: “poor health is one of the main causes of discrimination at work.”


In order to raise the discussion about ableism, we must first understand what exactly disability is. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) defines disability as long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment, which may hinder full and effective participation in society. Here, the role of society must not be neglected. Furthermore, according to Finland’s Human Rights government report, the right of any person, including a person with a disability, is strongly tied to its social context.


Disability cannot be simply defined by a set of certain characteristics, but it is recognized by CRPD as an “evolving concept,” which is strongly tied to the social context in which certain impairments or limitations occur, as researchers from the University of Lapland point out.


In the working field, people with disabilities face discrimination in the form of insufficient assistance, mobility barriers, and unaccounted rejection of job applications. According to the Eurobarometer, 15% of people with disabilities have rejected a job without any explanation. Sanni Purhonen, a teacher and a spokesperson of a cross-disability organization Kynnys, highlights the prevailing existence of, so-called, silent discrimination. Clearly, employers are not likely to openly admit to rejecting a person on the basis of disability. It is, in fact, illegal to do so. Instead, the act of discrimination is hidden, while still being present in society. Sanni will be attending the conference as a panelist, where she will discuss with other stakeholders the need for action regarding the equity of employees in education.


Ableism revolves around societal attitudes, such as prejudice, and devaluation. Disability is often harmfully viewed as a tragedy in need of overcoming and deserving pity. This damaging and deeply rooted in the culture thinking reinforces valuing the pursuit to change an impairment rather than valuing and respecting the person themselves. True recognition and inclusion can be achieved by critically addressing ableism as a social construct, replacing oppressive language, and providing structural support.

Conclusion


The Finnish Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of “age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.” However, as the evidence suggests, these regulations are not met in practice. The topic of equity in the working field requires further research and educational reforms, to raise the discussion around these issues among students and future workers. During our Worklife Utopia conference, we aim to raise awareness, spark conversations, and give the floor to brainstorm and share stories.


 

References


Cox, T. (1994). Cultural diversity in organizations: Theory, research and practice. Berrett-Koehler Publishers


Branco, C., Ramos, M. R., & Hewstone, M. (2019). The Association of Group-Based Discrimination with Health and Well-Being: A Comparison of Ableism with Other “Isms”. Journal of Social Issues, 75(3), 814–846. https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12340


Hehir, T. (2002). Eliminating Ableism in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 72(1), 1–33. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.72.1.03866528702g2105


Hongisto, S. (2021, February 11). Vammainen liikunnanopettaja muuttaisi käsityksiä. https://www.opettaja.fi/tyossa/vammainen-liikunnanopettaja-muuttaisi-kasityksia/


Koskinen-Sinisalo, K.-L. (2015). Pitkä tie. Maahanmuuttajasta opettajaksi Suomeen. Acta Universitatis Tamperensis 2112. Tampere: Tampereen yliopisto.


Kynnys ry – Vammaisten henkilöiden ihmisoikeusjärjestö. (n.d.). Retrieved 2 October 2021, from https://kynnys.fi/en/threshold-association/


Liu, H. (2020). Voiceless Teachers in Education : Intercultural Experiences and Perceptions of Chinese Immigrant Teachers in Finland. Helsingin yliopisto. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/320341


Manner, M. (2019, September 10). Tasa-arvoinen työelämä on vielä kaukana. Opettaja.fi. https://www.opettaja.fi/tyossa/tasa-arvoinen-tyoelama-on-viela-kaukana/


Mannila, S. (2021). Discrimination in Finland 2017-2019: Data report (Serial Publication OM 5/014/2015; Publications of the Ministry of Justice, Reports and Guidelines 2021:7). oikeusministeriö. https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/162843


Non-discrimination Act 1325/2014, (2014). https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2014/en20141325


Olsén, L., Heinämäki, L., & Harkoma, A. (2017). Vähemmistöjen sisäisten vähemmistöjen ihmisoikeudet ja moniperustainen syrjintä: Saamelaiset vammaiset henkilöt ja seksuaali- ja sukupuolivähemmistöt. University of Lapland. https://lauda.ulapland.fi/handle/10024/63084


Rautiainen, P., Lavapuro, J., Hartzell, J., Lehtinen, E., Meriläinen, N., Neuvonen, R., & Todorov, E. (2016). Ihmisoikeusindikaattorien käyttäminen Suomen perus- ja ihmisoikeustilanteen seurantaan. valtioneuvoston kanslia. https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/handle/10024/79592


Tomperi H., Shannon N., Virsinger P. (2021). Language requirements & prejudice hinder recruiting immigrants | TEK


 

About the authors


Mihaela Nyyssönen

With an academic background in early childhood education and social services, Mihaela is currently a student in the Changing Education Master's programme. She believes everyone has the potential to become an educational game-changer when they are in the right environment.

Zoi Vasileiou

Having a background in early childhood education and more than ten years of working experience in the field, Zoi is currently a master's student in the programme Changing Education. Her aim has always been to provide children with the essential tools for personal, emotional, and social development and for reaching their full potential. She believes that the best way to dream about the future is to be involved in making it.


Natalia Stalchenko

Natalia is a master's student of the Changing Education programme and a research assistant at the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki. She specializes in early childhood education and has experience working in the field in Finland. Her main goal is to promote children’s well-being and healthy development through education and contribute to implementing research-based theory into practice.


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