Structures and attitudes slow the development of women’s knowledge work in rural areas

In Finland, women’s knowledge work is strongly centred in urban areas. In rural areas, the importance of the education sector in women’s knowledge work has been significantly emphasised, but at the same time, the centralisation of education provision reduces the number of such jobs available in rural areas. The results of the UUTTU-project, announced on June 17th 2022, state that the promotion of women’s knowledge work in rural areas requires the further development of the rural workplace structure, addressing the challenges of careers and identifying women-specific issues. In the research project, the factors promoting and hindering the opportunities of new work in rural areas were studied from the women’s point of view.

The share of women doing knowledge work among all employed women in rural areas decreased between 2007 and 2018, even though the importance of knowledge work in urban areas has grown considerably over the same period. On the other hand, the gender bias of knowledge work is slightly lower in rural areas than in urban areas, where male-dominated technology fields are emphasised in knowledge work. In general, gender bias in the rural labour market is strongest in the female-dominated social and health services, education, accommodation and food services, as well as in the male-dominated primary production, construction and mining sectors.

The results of the UUTTU-project confirm that Finnish labour markets remain highly gendered. Industries are still strongly divided into ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ fields. The statistical review undertaken in the context of the project produced new, detailed information on both gender segregation by rural-urban division and the strength of segregation in different fields of knowledge work.

Structures and attitudes affect women’s opportunities to undertake knowledge work in rural areas

Based on the project’s survey, interviews and workshops, rural and urban areas do not differ significantly from each other in terms of creating an environment in which to undertake knowledge work. Instead, factors related to daily life and careers are crucial in decisions related to work and place of residence, similarly impacting those who do knowledge work.

Structures, infrastructure and personal factors can either hinder or promote women’s knowledge work opportunities in rural areas. One of the key factors in respect of infrastructure, for example, is the availability of telecommunications connections, which are also being actively developed. However, in the development of rural knowledge work, questions related to individuals’ careers, networks and local labour markets have received much less attention. The questions mentioned above are also related to gender, such as women’s higher level of education and the potential discontinuity of women’s working careers due to pregnancy.

Even if every day work could be done anywhere, questions regarding careers and the life cycle can make rural areas a challenging or risky choice for women.

Kirsi Siltanen, MDI 

Promoting women’s knowledge work in rural areas requires actions at different levels and across various societal sectors

The development of knowledge work in rural areas requires regional linking and the formation of networks between both individuals and companies. The results of the project emphasise the importance of networks as part of the daily life and career of a knowledge worker. The formation of networks requires support at the national, regional and municipal levels. Promoting women’s knowledge work in rural areas cannot be done by just one actor or only at one level, but requires extensive intervention in, for example, the segregation of education and the labour market. The discussion about women’s knowledge work in rural areas brings out its systemic nature: phenomena arise from the combined effect of many things.

Based on the results of the project, education policy has a connection to both the characteristics of the development of the rural information economy and the gendering of the labour market. Educational opportunities must be improved and developed in the rural areas and the importance of the jobs they produce for the local economic structure must also be recognised. Dismantling segregation must be included in the goals of education policy, so that different people have the opportunity to work in rural areas if they wish.

The information economy is challenging for rural areas due to the structures of trade and industry and skilled workforce. Women’s knowledge work in rural areas is also limited by several structural and personal factors related to everyday life and career paths and progression. We need both active measures and an open discussion around for whom the rural areas are being developed with the current measures and what should be done differently.

Sari Rannanpää, MDI

The project highlights the gender blindness of vitality policy and related policy instruments. The phenomenon is currently insufficiently recognised. The identification and assessment of human impacts should be included in municipal decision-making. In addition, stronger actions are needed from the state, regions and municipal business operators regarding the promotion, support and development of female entrepreneurship and female-majority industries.

In the UUTTU study carried out by MDI and SeAMK, a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge-intensive service activities in rural areas was conducted by means of a document search, expert interviews and statistical analysis (separate data from Statistics Finland). The various ways to promote women’s knowledge work in rural areas were mapped through an electronic survey, interviews, document analysis and workshops. The case study areas were Kainuu, coastal Lapland (around the Gulf of Bothnia) and South Ostrobothnia.

The project was financed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on the proposal of the project group set up by the Rural Policy Council, from the funds directed to Makera’s national rural research and development projects.