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Conference „Let´s talk about the gender pay gap” 13.05.2011
2nd plenary session
Ingolfur V. Gislason
, Associate Professor, University of Iceland We try to help the mothers – Failing the work-life balance
Ingolfur V. Gislason discussed why work-life balance is important, what the state and
employers can do to promote it, and how this affects the gender pay gap.
The work-life balance is a necessary prerequisite for solving the gender pay gap. It allows
women and men to live a full life both on the labour market and in their family life. From a
purely economic point of view, it allows for the full realisation of the human capital of both
men and women. However, less attention is paid to what is happening to men, to the
domestication of men, which must be supported if work-life balance is to be achieved.
Opinion polls show that domestication seems to be welcomed by men: they want to be
family, not just have
a family. This is also important for solving the demographic problem in
Europe: one of the main reasons behind a woman’s decision to have a 2nd or 3rd child is how
satisfied the mother is with the participation of the father in the life of the first child. There are 3 main reasons for the gender pay gap
1. Gender segregation on the job market; 2. Family responsibilities; 3. Blatant discrimination.
It is important to increase the role of men in family life, which can be done on 3 levels:
Midi – firms and municipalities – culture;
Mini – decisions within individual families.
The state can regulate the labour market and working hours and provide high quality child
care facilities with educated and motivated staff. Laws on gender equality must exist and be
enforced, and must meet the needs of both men and women. Parental leave can be provided
that allows parents to take time off to take care of new child without jeopardising their
Employers can introduce specific plans for gender equality and work-life balance, and
municipalities play an important role as they often provide the childcare facilities, and engage
in city planning, which can have a significant effect on work-life balance (e.g. amount of time
spent on the commute to work). In Iceland they are failing in this respect, because
family-friendly policies are normally geared toward providing help to mothers in
balancing family responsibilities and work. This will backfire:
any support to women to
help them with their duties at home disadvantages them on the labour market.
At the level of individual families, there is a need to look at the culture that influences the
“free“ decisions taken at the dinner table, within the framework of law, society, economic
situation, hampered by the culture regarding men and women. This includes the ideal of a
good mother who spends as much time as possible with children, especially when they are
young, and the ideal of a man who is a good provider, and who therefore can work overtime.
Changes are taking place, such as an increase in the contribution of men to domestic chores
and an increase in the number of men taking parental leave. But unfortunately the gender
pay gap is not
decreasing in Iceland, possibly due to a time lag, the fact that real changes in
behaviour may not be as dramatic as statistics indicate and the perpetuation of the cult of the
good mother, who is better prepared by nature for parenthood. Studies show, however, that
fathers are also biologically prepared for their new role (less testosterone, less corisol, more
estradiol and prolactin in men who are active in child-rearing). Fathers are also equally
competent as parents.
How should Iceland (and other countries) move forward? Today, achieving work-life balance
is largely a question of promoting caring masculinities through paternity leave, active
fatherhood in workplaces, encouraging parents to let fathers take care of sick children and
the cultural promotion of caring fatherhood. Achieving work-life balance is not only (or even
mainly) about women/mothers, it is a complex problem with no easy solutions. We have to
face the possibility that gender pay gap will not be eliminated in a society based on a market
economy, but we can certainly diminish it. Arni Hole
Ministry of Equality and Social Inclusion in Norway, director general
Why do gender quotas work?
Arni Hole presented the governmental point of view. No country can afford not to
acknowledge gender equality as a key to economic stability, innovation and growth. But if
equality is perceived as insignificant and as a task for women only, development will meet
obstacles. The boys and men have to be invited in. Since human capital is a decisive part of
our economy, it is of paramount importance how we make best use of our hands and heads.
Equality is a pre-requisite in this respect. Nevertheless, traditional patterns die hard;
sometimes it takes legal and radical affirmative action like quotas to produce results and
eradicate some stereotypes. Norway has a long tradition of affirmative action and gender balance regulation
already in the 1970s with a voluntary gender balance in major political parties. Today, there
is parity in the Cabinet, 39 percent women in the Parliament, close to 38 percent women in
the 430 elected Municipal Councils. The Gender Equality Act of 1979 that was strengthened
in 1988 introduced the requirement for 40 % of either sex for all governmental appointed
committees, councils, working groups, delegations, etc. In 1993 a similar regulation was
introduced in the Municipal Act. In 1993, Norway introduced the father’s quota (by law) within
the Parental Leave Scheme. The legal quota of parental leave for fathers has contributed to
a mental change both in the business community and among the fathers and mothers.
Taking care of your children is the normal and expected thing to do.
In 2003: Four different company laws were amended with a requirement of 40 % of either
sex on the elected board of directors of companies.
This regulation is enforced for Public
Limited Companies in January 2006 with a period of transition to January 2008. The National
Business Register enforces the rules and sanctions may apply; a company may be dissolved
by court if it does not comply or receive a considerable fine. In 2002 women were almost
totally absent from the board rooms of PLCs; today they represent 39.6 % of board
members. In this process, many lessons have been learned: the media must be used in a
clever way, sanctions must apply and be enforced and lobbying by NGOs and dialogue with
the social partners are key.
While many were sceptical about the success of quotas, businesses are generally happy
with the results, and many fears proved to be unfounded. Studies show that women who join
corporate boards are just as qualified as men who do so and that differences are usually
between persons of both genders, no between genders. Norway is also considering
introducing quotas for the boards of the largest of its 213 000 private limited companies.
Gender balance regulations are recommended if they are combined with modern, gender
neutral family laws, ample parental leave and quotas for fathers, full coverage of early
childcare-places to an affordable price and flexibility in work life for parents with sick children.
Such regulations are not a quick fix for achieving a gender balance in all sectors of society,
but they allow for women to be visible in the labour market and for men to contribute more to
, Case officer at Equality Ombudsman in Sweden Pay Surveys
Ulrika Johansson gave an overview of Swedish legislation that requires employers to
conduct regular pay surveys and of how she advises them how to prevent pay discrimination.
Sweden has a gender pay gap of 15%, of which 94% can be attributed to objective reasons.
Minimum pay levels were traditionally established by collective agreements, but failure of the
social partners to ensure equal pay for work of equal value created the need to legislate. The
Swedish legislation is inspired by Canadian equal pay legislation as introduced in Ontario
and also by the case law of the European Court of Justice on equal pay for work of equal
Under the Act, employers with 25 employees or more must once every three years prepare
an action plan for equal pay, containing a cost calculation and timetable for any necessary
pay adjustments. Two kinds of comparison are required by law, reflecting the two-fold risk of
discrimination, that is, that less value is given to equal effort and traditional women’s jobs are
less valued. Equal work is defined as jobs involving the same or almost the same tasks,
while work of equal value is defined as jobs that considered together impose equivalent
demands on the employee in terms of knowledge and skills, responsibility, effort and working
The Equality Ombudsman monitors compliance with the law, and at first works to persuade
employers to comply with the provisions voluntarily. The Ombudsman can also apply to a
special committee to impose a default fine. Threat of being reported to the committee has
been an effective sanction.
The Swedish experience shows that many companies had to change their policies after
submission of the first analysis. In the second stage, 47% of employers no longer needed to
correct their policies. Training and support are key, as there is a clear link between
knowledge of pay survey methodology and motivation to perform the task and the ability of
employers to make pay adjustments. Preventive work has proved to be more effective than
both dispute resolution negotiations and legal proceedings towards ensuring equal pay for
work of equal value. There is however the risk that employers will set out to not
problems for fear of being discriminatory, and may therefore not critically scrutinise their pay
system. It is the Ombudsman’s view that employers who find problems are the good
examples, not the bad ones!
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