In a historic announcement, the government in Iceland recently declared that they’d be making it illegal for women to be paid less than men for equal work. Obviously, unequal pay uniquely affects women, specifically women of colour with their average pay being notably lower than their white colleagues’, and since the wage gap has been around since women entered the workforce, this is a huge deal. Iceland has always been at the top of the list for lowest pay disparity, with theirs (up until now) standing at around 14-18%, compared to the US’s 68% for women of colour, and 80% for white women, on average. Despite the average wage gap in Iceland being so low, the landmark decision to simply outlaw unequal pay has still been welcomed with open arms.
In the UK, discussions about the wage gap and financial glass ceiling have been going on for a long time. It wasn’t that long ago when female workers at Ford took to the streets to protest their lack of wages even though they worked as much and as hard as their male colleagues, and the problem has continued. “100 years after women got the vote in this country, we have to have an equal, fair and transparent pay culture,” says Carrie Gracie, who recently resigned from the BBC after a dispute over her lack of pay, upon her discovering she was paid significantly less than her male colleagues. “I will not wait for 2020 for [the BBC] to sort out the gender pay gap … I no longer trust my bosses to give me an accurate answer,” she continues, in an interview with Channel 4.
As far as Iceland’s new Prime Minister is concerned, it is simple: two people who do the same work should be paid the same, regardless of sex, or gender. Yet if it is so simple, how has it taken so long? Why have there been so many barriers to pay equality, even in such forward-thinking countries such as Iceland? Pay disparity goes further than the number on a paycheck, too. The work women “traditionally” do (including but not exclusive to childcare, laundry, and cooking) has never been compensated with pay, and, traditionally, men have refused to do such without a reward of some kind.
Furthermore, the problems with the pay gap go much deeper than work, and extend into where we can place blame. When women are shocked upon finding out they’re paid less, or when the conversation surrounding pay disparity opens up, people immediately start asking questions: why didn’t you just ask for more money? Why didn’t you request an audit? Why didn’t you just ask your male colleagues how much they were being paid? Why don’t you just work somewhere else? Often the discussion around equal pay revolves around the notion that women aren’t aggressive enough when asking for more money, or simply don’t ask for more money at all. So, them being paid less is simply their own fault, rather than the blame being put on the institution that by default financially invests in inequality. This line of questioning is deeply flawed, because the onus shouldn’t be on women to have to constantly ask politely for equal pay, it should be given to us by default. And it seems bizarre that we’re being asked to wait till 2020 for equal pay, especially when Iceland has made the move so simply.
Closing the pay gap isn’t just morally right either, it turns out it’d actually be really good for business. “The world could increase Global GDP by as much as $28 trillion by closing the gender gap in labour participation. Any leader who wants their company or country to remain competitive should be putting gender equality at the top of her or his agenda,” says Halla Tómasdóttir, a business person and public speaker, and founder of Rekjavic University.
It’s embarrassing that so many sickeningly rich regions, such as the UK and USA, have deeply divided rates of pay amongst women and people of colour when it literally does not need to happen at all. The only thing it serves is the institution of patriarchy. No one really profits from gender discrimination, nor any other kind. And it’s even more embarrassing that change can be implemented so easily, as Iceland so swiftly have demonstrated. Yet it’s refreshing and inspiring to see the Icelandic government make such a move, considering how Iceland’s new Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, has only just started his leadership. Thankfully Jakobsdóttir sees that it simply is not okay to financially discriminate against women. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of their book. If Iceland can do it, why can’t we?
Written by Rochelle Asquith