Ræður og greinar félags- og jafnréttismálaráðherra

OECD Rountable on Better Governance for Gender Equality

17.5.2017

OECD Rountable on Better Governance for Gender Equality
Reykjavík, Iceland May 17-18, 2017
Mr. Þorsteinn Víglundsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Equality

Gender Equality and and Equal Pay in Iceland – the Success of good governance and tripartite cooperation.

Dear guests,

Let me begin by stating what an honour and a genuine pleasure it is for me to be here with you today and to be a part of your discussions about successes and challanges in our common work for gender equality and better governance with a whole-of-society approach. 

Iceland has repeatedly been internationally recognized for having come closest to breaking the glass ceiling and bridging the gender gap. Our progress is the result of conscious efforts, mostly of remarkable women, during a period of more than one hundred and fifty years.

What has changed over the decades in our small society is that gender equality is not only a women‘s topic or only on the political agenda – gender equality is widely discussed as an issue that benifits the whole-of-society. And sometimes, it even seems to be on everyone's agenda – there is a lively discussion both in mainstream media as well as in social media on the status of girls in sports, in music,  in the film sector, in the fishing industry, and the persistent lack of men teachers in pre-schools through secondary schools,  just to give you a few examples of a very lively social debate in the past few weeks. This awareness of the general public is probably the best critical support for an issue any government can ask for.

Specific measures such as affordable quality day care and generous parental leave for mothers and fathers have increased equality in all spheres of society. We have further implemented gender quotas for company boards and public committees; required gender mainstreaming in all policy and decisionmaking and introduced gendered budgeting.

Possibly the most important specific measure in Iceland is the paternity leave, implemented in the year 2000. This was an effort made by public authorities to influence the traditional roles of men in the home and particularly regarding child care – eventually affecting the labor market. The law does not only give fathers the possibility to take parental leave – it expects them to do so – as they cannot write the period over to the mother.

After the implementation of the exclusive paternity leave in 2000, studies 

The relationship between fathers and their children is significantly better than in countries where there is no paternity leave.

Fathers generally make use of their rights and it is socially acceptable for them to be at home with their children – 90% of fathers have used their entitlements of paternity leave (82 days on average)

Father's usage of the leave is initiating or supporting other changes such as more equal division of household tasks and the labor market participation of men and women.

The law has contributed to a more equal standing of men and women in the labor market.

The law has changed ideas about masculinities among young people. Even though the changes in masculinity roles had begun much earlier, they really took off with the legislative changes in 2000.

Experiences from Iceland and some of the other Nordic countries seem to indicate that prior to the introduction of the paternity leave, the relatively limited participation  of men in the care of their own children may have been due to the lack of social opportunities, rather than the lack of interest or abilities.

Leadership

Since women broke the male political dominance in the early 80s, we have learned that shared power in politics and business allows us to overcome systemic barriers to gender equality in all spheres of life.

A whole generation grew up watching women political leaders in the media and now Iceland has one of the most gender equal Parliament in the world for countries not using electoral gender quotas. Political parties have taken different paths to increase women‘s participation all have discovered that there is no shortage of qualified women leaders. We must continue to improve. When it is no longer news that we have a woman in a leading position - then and only then will we have reached parity.

A gender quota for government committees and larger companies is a part of a wider plan to improve the participation of women at all levels.

In 2010 amendments to the Acts on Public Limited Companies and Private Limited Companies, required companies with more than 50 employees to have both women and men on their company boards and if the board members are more than three, the percentage can´t be under 40%.

We have seen a great increase in the number of women on company boards, but women are still a minority of 25-40% depending on the size of the companies. However, the quota legislation has neither had the intended effect on the number of women as board chairmen nor in executive managerial positions – only 6% of CEOs of listed companies are women.

Other positive effects have been documented to be:            

  • More age distribution in the board rooms; younger women entering the board rooms
  • More varied background of board members - women with education in sociology, human resources as well as business and law
  • Attitudes towards gender quota have become more positive according to research, especially among older men and women
  • Pension Funds have begun advertising open board member positions

Labour Market – tripartite cooperation

The Icelandic Government has set its mind on closing the gender pay gap by 2022 and has submitted a legislative proposal to require, through special measures, larger firms and state institutions to have their equal pay systems certified on the basis of the Equal Pay Standard.

In a close cooperation from 2008 with the labor unions and employers the government developed the Equal Pay Standard following the principle of Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value. The Standard was published by Iceland Standards in 2012.

The standard is a Management Requirement Standard and has been run in a pilot project that is now coming to an end. It was developed in accordance with international ISO standards for possible adoption elsewhere and its implementation will fulfill the demands of international agreements such as the ILO convention, the Bejing Platform of Action, and CEDAW.

The implementation of the Equal Pay Standard creates a system that could confirm that women and men, working for the same employer, were paid equal wages and enjoyed equal terms of employment for the same jobs or jobs of equal value.

Our plan to enact legislation to close the pay gap has been somewhat disputed in Iceland. We see this as a sign of a healthy democracy and it actually brings the gender equality debate to mainstream media, politics and policy making.

Some of the criticism has been that it may eliminate the possibilities of rewarding individual traits or that it may proof too costly for companies. The Equal Pay Standard does not stifle opportunities for rewarding good performance. On the contrary, it will allow companies to better assess their human resources.

We are certain that we have found common ground with our social partners and will implement a law that strikes a balance between the cost and benefits of such an action.

Most special measures that have been implemented in the past have initially been met with some resistance, only to be proven successful for all involved. Moreover, we have seen it time and again that good intentions can only take us so far; requiring companies to truly implement their equal pay policies will be instrumental in eliminating the pay gap.

The legislative proposal, the Equal Pay Standard and the Certification thereof will be discussed later here today in more detail.

I wish you all very fruitful discussions during this important meeting.