Iceland makes unequal pay illegal
by Mila Phelps-Friedl, News and Views Editor
March 8, 2017: the 200th anniversary of the New York stock exchange, the 42nd official United Nations International Women’s Day and the day when Iceland became the first country to require employers to prove to the government that they are paying people of all genders equally.
According to AP News, “The North Atlantic island nation, which has a population of about 330,000, wants to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022.” This is quite a statement given that the wage gap is still a myth to many Americans. A survey conducted by the Harris Poll research center provided data that illustrated a major disconnect in the minds of many individuals who the pay gap doesn’t necessarily affect. This survey found that 82 percent of the working men think that there is no wage gap in their field of work. The study also found that “only 20 percent of females believe they will reach a six-figure salary during their careers, while nearly twice as many men (44 percent) expect to eventually earn annual salaries of more than six figures.”
So the fact that Iceland not only seems to accept the reality of this issue but has actually started the process of legislation to eradicate the gender wage gap proves that they are two major steps ahead of the United States. But this legislation didn’t just spring into existence — it was galvanized by protests that took place in major cities like Reykjavik, where throngs of women protested the gender wage gap.
In an interview with Liz Alderman of The New York Times, Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Iceland’s Social Affairs and Equality minister explained, “We want to break down the last of the gender barriers in the workplace. History has shown that if you want progress, you need to enforce it.” She also discusses the role of Nordic countries in leading the fight for equality, meeting gender quotas and allowing for generous parental leave. This is a fight that is more important now than ever, especially with the recent leadership choices of the United States in regards to human rights.
Alderman writes, “The new rules would require the biggest companies and government agencies to undergo audits, starting in 2018, and to obtain a certification of compliance with equal pay rules. Businesses with over 25 employees must comply by 2022. Employers must assess every job, from cleaner to senior executive, to identify and fix wage gaps of more than 5 percent.”
Now that Iceland has directed its energy and resources into closing a gender wage gap that many people do not believe exists within the United States, let’s take a look at the ways in which this disbelief has been challenged in the past decade or so. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed into effect with the intention to “prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” So that should have been the end of it, right?
Yet, while in Iceland, according to The New York Times article, women are paid 17 to 18 percent less than men, in America, women consistently look at a 20 percent wage gap, even with this legislation in place. Based off information available on the American Association of University Women’s Website, a leading voice for women’s equity, “The gap has narrowed since the 1970s, due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate. Still, the pay gap does not appear likely to go away on its own. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059.”
While March 8 was a huge step in the right direction for Iceland, it would be in the best interest for all countries to take a serious look at how closely their legislation is being followed when it comes to hardworking women and a very real gender pay gap. Perhaps the first step is educating people on what can be done to eradicate the gap — though quite honestly it is astonishing that in the past 54 years women have still not been able to get equal pay for the same work as men. So yes, there’s a lot to fix, but maybe America will lead by example and actually pay its citizens equally for a job well done. If not, Iceland may not be such a bad place to consider employment.
Mila Phelps-Friedl is a second-year journalism major who wants you to know that tickets to Iceland are only $100. You can reach them at [email protected].