The Finnish government is currently working on a new law that would allow workers to check what their colleagues are earning if they suspect that they are being discriminated against. This move would be part of the country’s bid to close the wage gap between men and women. Could talking openly about money be the solution to our money problems?
According to Reuters, the bill has been criticised by both workers’ unions, which want even more transparency, and the biggest employers’ organisation—the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK)—which says it would only create more conflicts in the workplace. Considering the evergreen taboo surrounding money-related topics, both sides of the situation come from a place that most of us can appreciate.
But despite this disagreement, the centre-left five-party coalition of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin is pushing ahead with the legislation. “What is central to the government’s programme is the elimination of unjustified pay gaps,” Equality Minister Thomas Blomqvist told Reuters. “They will now be addressed more rigorously.”
Blomqvist continued by saying that he expects the bill to be passed in parliament before Finland’s elections in April 2023. Finnish women earned 17.2 per cent less than men in 2020, according to a pay equality ranking by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The survey placed Finland in the 37th position, well behind Norway in 8th, Denmark in 9th and Sweden in 12th, even though gender equality has been high on the political agenda for decades in the country. Yet, the reasons are often similar to those in other western European nations—segregation of the job market into male and female-dominated professions, fathers taking less parental leave than mothers and women not being promoted as often as men.
In an attempt to shrink the wage discrepancy using her own means, Merja Mähkä, a journalist turned investor and blogger, has published her earnings on Twitter and Instagram since 2019, in turn, encouraging public discussions about pay transparency. “There have been situations where I’ve found out that a man doing a similar job to me has been paid more,” said Mähkä of her reasons, speaking on Tuesday 9 November as she published her taxed income of €48,522 ($56,111) for 2020.
Even before these new changes were introduced and approved, Finland already had a special relationship with what most of us know as ‘tax season’. On Monday 8 November, the Finnish tax authorities made public the data of each person in the country, opening the door for a media frenzy of gossip, boasting, and finger-pointing about who has paid their fair share in income tax.
While some might abhor the lack of privacy, the Finnish government believes that making tax information public is necessary for the country’s functioning. Finland’s welfare system, like the US’, is based on taxes, which means that public disclosures reinforce the idea that everyone should contribute.
Although it is transparent, tax day does not give the full picture so many Finnish women are yearning—the tax authority has estimated a person’s taxed income to be on an average 75 to 80 per cent lower than their actual income because of deductions and tax-free dividends.
Drafting the newly proposed bill to combine the different views of the two sides mentioned above has been difficult, leading to its publication being delayed. But Blomqvist told Reuters the bill will soon get the green light, “We will adhere to what we agreed on in the government programme.”
What remains to be seen is whether such a move will truly help close the gender pay gap between men and women in Finland. Though it’s impossible to answer this question without a doubt, I can’t help but think of a money-related conversation I previously had with Alex Holder—journalist and author of Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money—a woman who has been advocating for honest money talk for quite a while now, and who, like Finnish influencer Mähkä, started openly sharing her salary on Instagram a few years back.
“We all have really pocketed knowledge about money and how much people get paid. We might know about our industry and how much our parents earn but when that knowledge doesn’t stretch out to more people, it affects power dynamics and that’s how unfair pay practices can go unsolved,” Holder told Screen Shot during a 2020 interview.
“Only transparency will help us get to a place where we all speak openly about money and where asking for money advice isn’t shameful but actually normal and helpful,” I continued in the same article. Looking back on these statements, it only seems right for workers to be able to discuss their salaries with colleagues. It’s time for us to destigmatise the way we talk, think and feel about money, be it by talking with friends, partners and business owners or by boldly sharing our salary with the public.
Many of us have experienced embarrassment, shame or even anxiety when having to talk about income, finance management and other money-related topics. As inspiring as it is to see so many subjects previously considered taboo being openly discussed online as well as in real life, unfortunately, money talk seems to have slipped through the cracks of the new generation’s unforgivable wokeness.
But what if we all started speaking honestly about our finances? What if, instead of approximately guessing each other’s incomes based on the state and location of our flats, we actually asked directly and, even better, received a straightforward answer in return? While this may sound like a recipe for disaster to some, journalist and author of Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money Alex Holder has been advocating for honest money talk for a while now.
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Screen Shot sat down with Holder to discuss exactly what talking openly about money could teach us, both about our finances and ourselves. As a contributor to Asto’s recent report The Cash Flow Revolution, Holder strongly believes in the message that it delivers: money is not just maths, it’s personal—emotional even—which means that understanding someone else’s approach to financial management will help you understand your own approach to it, and vice versa.
And in order for you to understand how others think about money, there needs to be an honest conversation taking place at some point. That’s exactly what Holder discovered about herself and her group of close friends, “We shared a lot. They were the ones who I went to if I wanted to discuss anything vaguely taboo—all my sex education came from my friends, they were my career coaches, etc. But with money, we all skirted around it, which made me realise how many of the conversations we were having were inauthentic because we weren’t talking about the money bit or we weren’t mentioning any figures,” she explained.
Holder mentioned the example of one time when one of her friends came to her for advice on whether she should move in with her boyfriend of 6 months to save on rent. “Of course, during that conversation you have to ask them how much they like their boyfriend but also how much money they’re going to save. Is that going to add up in the long run if you have to move out sooner? Getting those figures out meant we could actually discuss the emotional side as well as the money side.”
Once Holder started talking about money with friends, she felt a collective relief, “We were all really happy to start discussing it, because it’s such an important issue in all the areas of our lives.” Since then, she has been on a mission to tackle financial taboos and won’t stop until then.
Before defining six Money Mindsets in its report, Asto wasn’t looking for anything in particular, Holder explains, “We wanted to speak to as many small and medium business owners as possible—Asto surveyed over a thousand—and again, having conversations, asking those questions and listening carefully to the answers that were coming up led us to find patterns that certain people fell into. That’s how the different Money Mindsets were created.”
The report’s aim isn’t to slot anyone into a box, but more to help you understand how your emotions, your upbringing and socialisation as well as how well your business is doing, make you take certain decisions in a certain way at that moment in time. What makes a true difference is being aware of how you deal with problems—there’s no one way of dealing with money, and learning about how others approach those issues can lead you to fix your own. After all, we learn from others, right? Why should it be any different when it comes to money?
“There’s no normal, but there are a lot of different tools and ways to help you out, and there might be a better way for you to do it,” explained Holder. But what about once this type of open conversation has taken place—where do you go from there? Then, it’s time to act. Speaking about personal financing, Holder advises, “Look at your money: you should know exactly how much you have and how much is going out of your bank account at any time. This is even more important when it comes to business finances. Make sure your money is really transparent to you, don’t hide it behind five different passwords—you need to be looking at your bank account every single day.”
Both in personal and in business, it has become so easy for money to just leave our account. How many times have you forgotten about that extra expense at the end of the month which always takes you by surprise? I sure have. Transactions are now so effortless that being mindful of your money simply isn’t enough anymore—Holder also advises people to tune into their emotional relationship with their finances.
People are slowly realising that talking about money can be really helpful. After all, money plays a crucial role in our lives and relationships. It’s time for us to destigmatise the way we talk, think and feel about money, be that through talking with friends, partners, business owners and freelancers or by sharing our salary on Instagram like Holder did.
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“We all have really pocketed knowledge about money and how much people get paid. We might know about our industry and how much our parents earn but when that knowledge doesn’t stretch out to more people, it affects power dynamics and that’s how unfair pay practices can go unsolved,” shared Holder. Only transparency will help us get to a place where we all speak openly about money and where asking for money advice isn’t shameful but actually normal and helpful.
There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers, right?