In most countries, gender equality is an objective, not a reality, especially when it comes to salaries.
The idea of equal pay for equal work is all well in good, until it comes to implementation.
Then, women’s empowerment in terms of income is little more than an exercise in lip service.
In fact, according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the global gender wage parity gap boils down to women across the world making between 60 and 75 cents for every dollar a man earns for work of equal value.
Moreover, gender pay inequality affects virtually every country on Earth, representing an economic setback of $12 trillion in global growth, according to a study conducted by the McKinsey and Company global management consulting firm late last year.
And so-called economically developed countries are just as guilty of gender pay discrimination as their poorer counterparts.
In New Zealand, the nation with the smallest gender wage gap, men still make on average 5.6 percent more than women, and in the United States, the disparity is 20 percent.
Here in Mexico, the disparity ratio is 17.4 percent.
UN Women says that, if things continue at the current rate, the global gender pay gap will not close for another 70 years.
But finally, one country is taking a genuine stand against gender income disparity and putting its money where its mouth is, or at least, making companies inside its territory put their money where their mouths are.
As of late last month, Iceland, which has already been ranked the best country in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum, has implemented legislation requiring employers to prove that they are paying men and women equally.
Although there have been laws in Iceland prohibiting pay discrepancies based on gender for more than half a century, enforcement of those laws has — as in the case of most countries with comparable regulations — been lax.
Consequently, women in Iceland still earn between 14 and 20 percent less than men for the same job.
But, now, under the new legislation, unless companies can show clear fiscal evidence that they are not guilty of gender income discrimination, they will be fined.
In accordance with the new rules, Iceland’s largest companies and government agencies will be subjected to audits starting in 2018, and will be required to obtain a certification of compliance with equal pay regulations in order to continue operations.
Smaller business — those with 25 to 100 employees — will have to comply by the year 2022.
Exactly how the process will work and how it will be implemented is still a bit vague, but Icelandic authorities estimate that the new law will essentially bridge the country’s gender income gap in just five years.
The Icelandic model is setting a precedence for other countries trying to find ways to empower women economically, including in Great Britain, which recently required companies with 250 employees or more to publicly declare any gender pay differences.
Austria and Belgium also have rules regarding declarations of pay inequalities, as do the United States and Switzerland, but, in all these cases, there are no penalties for lack of gender pay equality compliance.
As might be expected, the new corporate gender equality regulations are meeting with considerable opposition from corporations in Iceland, which consider the added paperwork an unfair burden.
But the Icelandic government is not backing down.
Their response: Governments put burdens on companies all the time when it comes to auditing their annual accounts and turning in tax declarations. This is just one more legal process that must be complied with to ensure justice in the workplace.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]