From Iceland — Fair Pay, Fair Play: Closing The Gender Wage Gap In Iceland

Fair Pay, Fair Play: Closing The Gender Wage Gap In Iceland

Fair Pay, Fair Play: Closing The Gender Wage Gap In Iceland

Published June 18, 2017

Nanna Árnadóttir
Photo by
Art Bicnick

I can’t remember when I became aware of the gender pay gap. I can’t remember my mum ever patting me on the back and saying, “Go get ‘em kid! Go get your almost equal pay!”

Once it dawned on me—that women struggled to get paid the same as their male counterparts—I’m sure I thought it was unfair, but clearly by then I’d seen enough small injustices to not be terribly surprised. My grandmother foregoing me to give my cousin treats, because “boys get their candy first.” My mother and sister always clearing the table while my brother and brother-in-law stayed in their seats. The list goes on, but I won’t bore you with it.

Last week the Icelandic parliament passed a bill that will, as of January 2018, require companies with 25 employees or more to guarantee that male and female employees receive the same wages for the same work.

In a small company, it’s rare that people have the same job—usually the little guy can only afford one marketing manager, say, or one accountant, one lawyer, etc. That’s why smaller business are exempt from this legislation. But the big guns, your Ikeas and Price Waterhouse Coopers, they have to start proving that they play fair.

If these companies fail to provide proof of equal pay they will be held accountable and will have to pay fines and so on.

“Acknowledging that equality should be mandatory is not the same as making it mandatory.”

Politicians opposed to the bill argued that there was already legislation in place that stipulates workplaces can’t discriminate based on gender, religion or age, so the government didn’t need to intervene further.

It’s true that Iceland, like most developed countries, does already have a law that says there should be equal pay. But change for the better isn’t inevitable. Acknowledging that equality should be mandatory is not the same as making it mandatory.

And if change was inevitable, then we’d have equal pay already—but in the forty-plus years that Icelandic women have been pushing for equal pay, the gap hasn’t closed. Sometimes, you have to sit on the suitcase to close it, you feel me?  

Conservative MP Brynjar Níelsson said that he had to swallow a lot of vomit and suffered many sleepless nights before Parliament voted on this bill. We get it Brynjar, change is hard and it’s not a perfect process.

I’m sure that many companies will figure out workarounds, ways to undermine the bill and continue paying women less than men. Mid-sized companies might struggle with trying to make it work to start with, and find it difficult to raise product prices or cut into shareholder dividends to ensure everyone is getting the wage they deserve.

“If change was inevitable, then we’d have equal pay already,”

But in the long run, it will pay off. So that when my daughter and yours grow up we can say, “Go get ‘em kid! Go get that equal pay!” and then they can laugh in our faces and remain unappreciative and ignorant of our struggle to make the world a fairer place for them.

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