Diversity and Inclusion in Sweden
If you’re worried about coming to Sweden and being the only foreigner, you don’t have to be concerned. Since the 70s, when Sweden welcomed refugees fleeing the coup d’état in Chile, the country has steadily become much more diverse and welcoming. In 2021, over a quarter of the population had a foreign background, so you will find many people who know what it is like to move and adapt to Sweden. You will not be alone.
A reason why Sweden has become much more diverse, with the proportion of the population with foreign backgrounds more than doubling between 1995 and 2021, is Sweden’s willingness to take in refugees. In 2015, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, Sweden took in more refugees per capita than any other country in the EU. More recently, Sweden has also opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.
The increase in diversity has brought many positive changes to Sweden and made the country into a much more multicultural and interesting place, but it has not been without its challenges.
Sweden has struggled with the integration and inclusion of people with foreign backgrounds, resulting in the exclusion and marginalization of many groups. One reason for this is that the necessary structural and systemic changes required to ensure inclusion and representation did not happen alongside the increase in the number of people with foreign backgrounds. Sweden has been far more reactive than proactive when it comes to ensuring inclusion. Policy needs to catch up to society.
The good news? Diversity and inclusion are at the center of Sweden’s political agenda. In t
he 2017 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, Sweden recognized that although the country has done very well when it comes to gender equality and social justice, there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve true inclusion and representation. The negative effects of exclusion, such as segregation, vandalism, gang violence, and rising populism and racism, are widely recognized in Sweden and there are active efforts to address them and ensure that everyone, no matter their background, has equal access to opportunities.
Positive change is already noticeable within the Swedish Parliament, or Riksdag in Swedish. Somalian-Swede Leila Ali Elmi was elected as a member of the Riksdag in 2018, making her Sweden’s first hijab-wearing MP. She is giving a voice to Swedish Muslims, who make up nearly a tenth of the total population.
Although diversity within the Riksdag still needs to increase in order to truly represent Swedish society - only over a tenth of MPs have a foreign background compared to a quarter of the total population - many left-leaning political parties are more diverse. Within the Left Party, for instance, 32% of members have a foreign background. In the Liberal Party, it’s 20%. Greater diversity and representation within political parties is an important step towards getting policies that match reality and can start to fix the issues of exclusion and segregation.
Many positive changes are taking place, but it may still seem like Sweden’s problems with racism and integration make it a rather bleak place for foreigners. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged from coming here. People with foreign backgrounds are needed and wanted in Sweden and you will find that most people are very friendly and daily life is peaceful, balanced and satisfying. Especially if you come to Sweden with a job, you will find that the process of settling in is quite easy as you won't fall into one of the major challenges of integration in Sweden - finding employment.
It is also important to note that despite some of the issues that Sweden faces in terms of integration and inclusion, the country is still ranked as one of the top 10 best countries to be an immigrant in. Sweden performs extremely well in categories such as quality of life, human rights, freedom, gender equality, safety, education, health and business environment.
When it comes to business environment, the democratic structure of the majority of Swedish workplaces also means that you can voice your thoughts and concerns and be taken seriously. And remember, you won’t be alone. There will be many others around you with foreign backgrounds who will be more than happy to support and help you. At some of the biggest Swedish companies like Volvo and Ericsson, you will meet so much international talent that you will even wonder where the Swedish people are.
The Swedish business world recognizes the value and potential of international talent. There are many projects taking place to attract more international talent. The city of Stockholm, for instance, has the ambition of becoming an international talent hub and is working on making it as easy as possible for international talent to move to and settle in Stockholm. This includes making the city more inclusive and welcoming to foreigners than it already is.
One reason that international talent is so desired in Stockholm is that the city has a booming IT sector. In recent years the city has produced more billion-dollar companies than any other region in the world. Only Silicon Valley outranks it. There are more positions and opportunities available than there are software engineers and IT professionals to fill them, so if you are in either of these fields you will find that Stockholm is a very exciting place to take you next career step.
Overall, although there are still many areas that Sweden needs to work on to make Swedish society truly equal and inclusive for all minorities, if you are coming as an economic migrant with a job lined up you will find that the transition to Sweden is quite easy and that the work culture is refreshingly open and democratic. Sweden is a place where your perspective is desired and your voice can have power. Are you ready to make an impact and a difference?