On the face of it, Iceland is a good place to be a woman. For nearly a decade, it has been rated the world’s most gender-equal country. It was the first to directly elect a female president, nearly half its MPs and company directors are women, and first-class daycare and parental leave help ensure almost four in five women have jobs.
So it came as a shock for Fríða Rós Valdimarsdóttir to learn, when she was managing a key team of 10 home carers at Reykjavik council a few years ago, that male colleagues in other departments, with far fewer responsibilities than her, were being paid a great deal more.
“It has been illegal for decades, for jobs that are worth the same, to pay people differently because of gender, but still it happens – it’s simply been allowed,” says Valdimarsdóttir, who is now the chair of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, in her bright offices in the country’s capital.
Despite an equal pay act that dates back to 1961, Icelandic women still earn, on average, between 14% and 20% less than men. So Valdimarsdóttir and her association were one of many campaign groups to back a plan that finally resulted, last month, in the island becoming the first country in the world to legally enforce equal pay.
They’re not enforcing equal pay. They’re enforcing equal pay for the same – or very similar, to be fair – job.
It is still true that different life choices, different commitments to career, different deployments of talent, will lead to different pay outcomes.
Within four years from January 2018, any public or private body in Iceland employing more than 25 people that has not been independently certified as paying equal wages for work of equal value will face daily fines.
Be fun to see the lawyers arguing as follows.
“My client pays different amounts because they regard the work as being of different value. The proof that the work is of different value is that it is paid differently. QED.”
At which point, my prediction. The country will still have a gender pay gap even after this is all bedded in. And people will still complain.