According to a study carried out by the Danish municipalities’ newsletter Momentum, an increasing proportion of Danish public sector jobs – particularly in low-level healthcare – are held by people with a non-Western background.
In 2009, five percent of municipal jobs were held by this group, while the latest figures from 2013 show that it is now six percent.
In 2000, Local Government Denmark (Kommunernes Landsforening), an interest group for all of Denmark’s 98 municipalities, set a goal of having the ethnic composition of their own staff to more closely mirror that of Danish society. The new findings give them cause for optimism.
“It’s not that the municipalities have run amok with selecting non-Danish applicants for jobs, but rather that we have decided to attempt to develop a staff composition that better reflects local society,” Michael Ziegler, the mayor of Høje Taastrup Municipality, told Politiken.
The union for public sector employees, FOA, was also pleased with the figures.
“It’s quite the success story for the integration agenda. We can see that nearly half of the students in healthcare colleges are people from a non-Western background. It’s great that they are finding employment opportunities. The likely alternative could have been that they would end up unemployed instead,” FAO's chairman, Dennis Kristensen, told Politiken.
Challenging Danish gender norms
More non-Western men in particular have begun to enter the public sector, and have demonstrated an interest in low-level healthcare professions, such as becoming a nurse.
Currently, about eight percent of ethnic Danes working in Denmark’s nursing homes are men, while for non-Western men the figure is 14 percent, according to Momentum's study.
Anika Liversage, a senior researcher at the Danish National Research Center for Welfare, said that the explanation is largely cultural, in that Danish men tend to view low-level healthcare jobs as 'women's work'. A lot of male immigrants, however, do not share that perception.
“We have in Denmark one of the world’s most gender-segregated job sectors. Women work in the public sector, and men in the private sector. But a lot of the public sector healthcare jobs that women typically take in Denmark do not exist in the global south,” Liversage told Politiken, adding that men are more involved in the day-to-day care of elderly family members in other parts than they are in Denmark.
Kristensen echoed Liversage’s sentiments.
“One of the explanations for why non-Western men aren’t as afraid of working as nurses and healthcare assistants could be that it is not seen as low-status work in their culture to work with people, as it is in Denmark,” he told Politiken, noting that non-Western men are also over-represented compared to their Danish counterparts in administrative and educational jobs in the public sector.