The U.S. Should Follow Iceland’s Example: Iceland Throws The First Stone At The Glass Ceiling

By: Hannah Bloom

The glass ceiling. What is this mysterious yet familiar term? You may have heard of it before, but not known what it actually meant. The glass ceiling is “an intangible barrier within a hierarchy that prevents women or minorities from obtaining upper-level positions.”[1] This term comes to light when considering one aspect of real life in the U.S., the workplace.[2] Research has shown that there is a significant difference in the earnings that women receive in the work place in comparison to men.[3] Overall, in the U.S. women are paid 80 cents to every one-dollar that is paid to men.[4] This same research found that this amounts to “an annual gender wage gap of $10,470.”[5] Women within minorities earn even less; African American women and Latinas make 64 cents and 53 cents respectively to every man’s dollar.[6]

How can this be legal? It may surprise you that in all actuality our U.S. Constitution does not “guarantee equal rights for women.”[7] This is because the Constitution does not “explicitly guarantee that the rights it protects are held equally by all citizens without regard to sex.”[8] One remedy to this would be to pass the ERA. This is the Equal Rights Amendment which dates back to the early 1920s when activists first began attempting to pass it. The EPA states that, “[e]quality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”[9]

One country is planning to cast the first stone towards the glass ceiling that has been keeping women imprisoned for centuries, Iceland.[10] This tiny nation, with its population of 330,000 people, will introduce to parliament this month legislation that will require all employers with over 25 employees to “obtain certification to prove they give equal pay for work of equal value.”[11] This legislation is an amendment to its already existing law, discussed in more detail below, and it is expected to be approved by parliament since both the center-right government and the opposing lawmakers support it.[12] This will make Iceland the first country on the planet to require employers to prove that they offer equal pay “regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or nationality.”[13]

Iceland is not new to the gender equality fight either, the Minister of Social Affairs is the organization that is in charge of implementing gender equality legislation and their efforts date back to 1975.[14] Currently, Iceland’s legislation on gender equality is called the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men.[15] This Act’s goal is to “establish and maintain equal status and equal opportunities for women and men, and thus promote gender equality in all spheres of the society.”[16] This goal is being reached by implementing things like mainstreaming gender in every aspect of society, promoting equal influence of men and women in policymaking and decision making in society, and enabling both men and women to reconcile their family and work lives.[17]

In terms of enabling both women and men to reconcile their family and work lives, under the aforementioned Act’s 2000 amendment, the total parental leave period is nine months long.[18] Both parents have three months leave each which is not transferable in addition to another three months that the parents can divide up however they see fit.[19] While the parents are out on their leave, the ones who had been working full time receive 80% of their respective salary up to a certain limit.[20]

Where does the U.S. stack up against Iceland exactly though? While former President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963[21], the rights of women are still vulnerable because Congress has the ultimate power to change this Act at any time depending on the people who are in office.[22] That is why one state in particular is attempting to improve its laws.[23] Minnesota has begun its own fight against the glass ceiling in terms of the wage gap with its Equal Pay for Equal Work Law.[24] The state’s legislation states that:

No employer shall discriminate between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees at a rate less than the rate the employer pays to employees of the opposite sex for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or a differential based on any other factor other than sex.[25]

As you can see from the above provision, the only instances when an employer may pay an employee of the opposite gender a different amount for the same work performed is when it is based on a seniority system or merit system (among other things).[26] As an incentive to follow this law, Minnesota has made the penalties for violating the law quite strict.[27] An employee can not only sue the employer for the unpaid wages he/she missed out on for up to the previous year, but the employee can also sue for an equal amount of liquidated damages and also attorney’s fees.[28]

            In conclusion, Iceland is definitely leading the world in terms of nations that are implementing legislation to close the wage gap between men and women. This aspect of every day life, the work place and pay, is one area that the glass ceiling applies to and Iceland is attempting to tear it down. While the U.S. still has a ways to go, Minnesota is on the right track with its legislation.


[1] Merriam Webster Dictionary (edition unknown 2017).

[2] See Nat’l P’ship for Women & Families, America’s Women and the Wage Gap,, (last visited Apr. 1, 2017).

[3] Id. at 1.

[4] Id. at 1.

[5] Id. at 1.

[6]Tabby Biddle, Wait, Women Don't Have Equal Rights in the United States?, The Huffington Post (Jan. 23, 2017),

[7] Id.; see U.S. Const.

[8] Id.

[9] The Equal Protection Act (1923).

[10] See

USA Today, Iceland Becomes the First Country in the World to Make Employers Prove They Offer Equal Pay, (Mar. 9, 2017),

[11] Id.

[12] Id.; The Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, No. 10/2008.

[13] USA Today, supra note 10.

[14] See The Gender Equality Act (1975); Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir, The Policy On Gender Equality In Iceland,, 1 (2010); Ministry of Welfare, Gender Equality,, (last visited Apr. 1, 2017).

[15] The Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, No. 10/2008; Ministry of Welfare, supra note 14.


[16] Ministry of Welfare, supra note 14.


[17] Id.

[18] Act on Maternity/Paternity Leave and Parental Leave, No. 95/2000.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] See Equal Pay Act (1963); Corie J. Tarara, EEOC Issues New Resource Documents Related to Equal Pay & Pregnancy Discrimination,, (June 14, 2016),

[22]Biddle, supra note 6.

[23]Tarara, supra note 21.

[24]Minn. Stat. 181.66-.71; Id.

[25]Minn. Stat. 181.67.


[27]Tarara, supra note 21.