What’s Missing from the Equation of Justice for Equal Pay?
On June 1, 2017, Iceland passed a law to tighten its gender wage gap. In January 2018, the law officially went into effect. Companies and government agencies with 25 employees or more are now required to cooperate with the Center for Gender Equality in order to receive a certification that indicates the company is paying male and female employees equally.
While this law may not seem promising — as laws are often passed but rarely implemented — companies are bound to abide by it, since employers without certifications may have to pay a minimum at $500 per day. Brynhildur Heidar -og Omarsdittor, Managing Director of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, asserts that the country has been fighting to close the gender wage gap since 1961.
“The then government of Iceland decided that they wanted to make this standard not a voluntary one,” she said. Iceland is leading the world in passing legislation to close the gender wage gap. The laws are clearly reflected in the fact that the pay gap has shrunk nearly 10% in the past 12 years, reports the Global Gender Gap Report.
Every country in the world pays men more than women, even if both are in the same position or profession. Critics of Iceland’s pay equity law — like employers’ federations — propose that the market will be too heavily regulated to ensure that all employees are being paid fairly. Some economists assert that the gender pay gap in Iceland and the U.S. persists because women and men work different amounts, or enter the workforce with varying levels of ability. John List, an Economist and head of Uber’s economic team, highlights the “constraints” that many women encounter.
“Part of it is because women have more constraints—i.e, take the kid to school in the morning...And I think those constraints then lead women to actually receive less experience and less learning-by-doing,” he said.
In certain professions, like driving for Uber, the quantity of work that someone exerts is correlated to its quality. However, the narrative that new mothers and women should shape their careers or jobs around having children seems outdated. Myriads of Icelandic women — and women around the world — must prefer to work different hours than men because of the responsibilities of raising children. Iceland’s new legislation seems to highlight how policy makers around the globe dance around addressing the effect of gender roles on women and men.
Iceland’s Parliament has also enacted other laws that address the prioritization of men in the workplace. Since 2015, Icelandic mothers and fathers have had three months of non-transferable paternity leave and two months of transferable leave. This system, to a certain extent, encourages both parents to share child-rearing responsibilities in a child’s first critical years of life.
Additionally, non-transferable leave can shift expectations of women and men to fit neatly into their assigned gender roles. If men can be home earlier on, and for longer than a week or two, the emotional support and chores that accompany raising a child can be more balanced between the mother and the father. Women can spend more time developing their careers or jobs. In Iceland, several women go against the notion that females put in different volumes of work because they are at home with the kids. While this factor may ring true for many women, it cannot be applied to diagnose the 5.7 gender wage between the genders that persists in Iceland. Other countries like Sweden have experienced a shift of parent responsibilities, and nearly 85% of fathers use three to five months of paternity leave.
Similar to any law, people’s mentalities and habits may not be budged by stricter legislation. Some even argue that Iceland’s wage equity law enables companies to hire fewer women, because they do not want to risk getting financially persecuted. How can we ensure that a law that is intended to protect women actually does so?
The U.S. should consider following Iceland’s lead, but environmental pressure placed on women and men to fulfill certain duties and personas continue to stand in the way. To begin addressing our widespread discomfort and aversion to the sexism embedded in the gender wage gap, we need to listen carefully to the women in our communities. Action can only begin after truly listening.