For a few days, when sunlight is at its minimum during the month of November, the city of Helsinki turns into a huge multicultural rendezvous’ of people eager to share their ideas, funding and LinkedIn profiles with new acquaintances. The annual startup event Slush resembles a combination of a business conference, art installation and a futuristic music festival, all baked into one. However cool the venue and after-party are, there are serious matters to be discussed.
As in previous years, British private equity company Atomico released their annual report on the State of European Tech, during the first official day of Slush. According to the report, European tech companies have a record breaking amount of funding this year. The sum has grown from approx. €23 billion in 2018, to €30 billion in 2019.
While money and investments seem to be in abundance, there is still a massive amount of work to be done in order for European tech companies to battle in the same field with the US and Asia. Based on the discussions at Slush this year, on Atomico’s research, and VALA’s own findings, there are three key issues that I believe require dire attention in the work culture in Finland.
Fixing the diversity gap in European and Finnish work life.
According to Atomico, a staggering number of 92% of investments go to companies with only men as founders. This, combined with the results from a survey by Inklusiiv, on how only 28% average of personnel in Finnish tech companies are women, gives a rather worrying state of the future. These statistics give a prediction on how wealth will be divided in the future, as more and more money funnels into tech and digitalization, and the people working in the industry is alarmingly homogenous.
The statistics also indicate who are the people building the world of tomorrow and for whom. If the majority of people building tech and getting investments on new innovations are men, the world will continue to be built around the needs of predominantly white men.
Employee retention and building healthy and innovative cultures.
On Friday at 10.50 on the Quantum Stage, Philip Chambers, co-founder of Peakon, pondered why people quit their jobs, and gave insight into the research Peakon has done on the matter. The key takeaways that stuck with me, were that 1.) People leave unchallenging work, not a heavy workload, 2.) People leave because of bad managers, not because of bad colleagues, and 3.) A drop in engagement gives a good prediction of resignation.
An hour later, Cara Brennan Allamano from Udemy, confirmed these topics and explained how the tech revolution redefined the “HR culture” and work environments. As tenures decrease internationally, the focus is directed on employee perspective and experience.
Work life is changing and this change requires action and reformation from leaders. Unsurprisingly, tech companies especially seem to often be aware of the importance of employee understanding and wellbeing. Many build their culture and branding around the topic. This is of course good for business in a field with a massive shortage of (wo)manpower. However, whatever the reason for it, as long as it is honest and works, it’s a good thing it’s happening. This tendency of investing in the wellbeing of employees is however, unfortunately still rather industry-specific. When speaking to HR representatives in other industries, developing cultures based on the experiences of employees, may not be self- evident at all.
Steering skilled professionals to Finland
As the statistics of the report by Atomico indicate, as well as numerous reports done nationally, instead of money, growth companies today have a shortage of, above all, skilled workers. The city of Helsinki, Finland-based tech companies, and the current government have set objectives to increase skilled labor migration to Finland in the tech field.
Unfortunately however, Finnish recruitment ads often still have Finnish language listed as a requirement. Sometimes the requirement is not listed in the job add, but becomes evident when applying. There still seems to be a somewhat strong resistance to change when it comes to opening work cultures to more internationalization. One would expect tech jobs to be flexible when it comes to language skills, but the change towards openness is surprisingly slow in many sectors of the Finnish work life. Hopefully this changes, as Finnish work culture becomes more international and inclusive, and as companies realize that there simply aren’t enough Finnish-speaking tech specialists out there. Requiring Finnish language can end up being a major hindrance for not only innovation, but economic growth.
Where do we go from here?
The experience of this year’s Slush was conflicting. The discussions tend to really motivate me, as it feels that we at VALA are working on the same topics internally. Hearing people on stage discuss the same topics that we discuss within VALA on a daily basis, such as diversity & inclusion issues, employee experience and corporate responsibility, reassures me that things are probably heading in the right direction globally.
Simultaneously though, the number of women making up the VC backed companies has actually decreased from last year. On Monday while walking through town to work, the cultural diversity on the streets of Helsinki went back to looking and hearing rather homogeneous after most of the Slush visitors had flown back home.
Although these are issues that we at VALA have been working on internally, it seems evident that they cannot be fixed without cooperation on a multi-level front, combining political, corporate-level and societal action. Hopefully all the discussion heard on the stages of Slush, leads to concrete action.