What Iceland can teach the U.S. about equal pay for women

There is no country better positioned to celebrate Equal Pay Day than Iceland.

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, Iceland did a lot more for their countrywomen than drop a brass statue of a girl in front of the Charging Bull on Wall Street. The country’s leaders announced that Iceland would become the first country to enforce equal pay for women on a national level.

“There is a standard which we have already taken up, but not all are following it,” said Iceland’s Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson to reporters recently.

According to the World Economic Forum, Iceland is already the most equal country in the world in terms of gender.

Even so, there is still a sizeable average wage gap of 14-18% between men and women. By enacting countrywide federal regulations, the Icelandic government hopes to close the gender wage gap entirely by 2022.

The plan will go into effect in 2020, and will apply to every Icelandic company that employs more than 25 people. Every 3 years, they will have to undergo certification to keep their equal pay policies in check.

It comes on the heels of a massive strike that took place in Iceland last October in which women protested the wage gap. At 2:38pm, 90% of women across the country walked out of work as that was 70% of their workday, which equals the average cent on the dollar they earn. The Icelandic government took notice and acted accordingly.

Iceland is changing the wage gap in different ways

In 2000, they instituted an equal parental leave policy, which gave both parents 3 months off, and an additional 3 to split between them. In 2012, that policy was upgraded to 5 months with 2 additional months to share. The country also pays for 95% of kindergarten tuition, which makes it much easier for parents to return to work.

In October, 2016, Iceland elected a record number of women to Parliament — 30 out of 63 seats — which makes it the most equal Parliament in the world among countries without a quota.

Outside of politics, due to their excellent state level education systems in place and government assistance with childcare, Iceland has the the highest percentage of women in the workforce worldwide.

Needless to say, if there was an award for most feminist country in the world, Iceland would likely win it.

The U.S. is making progress on equality, but has far to go

According to The Economist’s most recent “glass-ceiling index” which measures things like higher education, workforce participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity and paternity rights, and representation in senior jobs, the US ranks 20 out of the 29 countries represented.

While that doesn’t sound great —specifically in terms of gender wage gap, in which the US ranks in the bottom 5—, there are silver linings.

The U.S., even though it feels like it’s falling behind, ranks ranks highest in percentage of women in managerial positions at 43.4%, and more than the average number of women in this upper echelon ranking are attaining higher education degrees. Of course, we have a lot of work to do in terms of women in government offices, but that change may be on the horizon considering our current political climate.

Furthermore, the wage gap is much smaller for younger women ages 25-34, at 93 cents to the dollar, which suggests the trend is finally turning a corner, and the overall gap will shrink over the next decade.

Finally, there have been some measures taken on the state level to equalize the pay gap. In 2010, Minnesota finally achieved full pay equity for state employment, which means they are one of the few states to require equal pay for work of equal value, and have since 1982. It’s taken decades, however, for that requirement to be properly enacted.

Compared to Iceland, the United States has a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the workforce, but the battle for change is well underway. And, with a burgeoning generation of women who refuse to take inequality lying down, the chances of this gap disappearing in the not-too-distant future are good.