Rúna Magnúsdóttir. Photo: Jonathan BorgRúna Magnúsdóttir. Photo: Jonathan Borg

The first step to achieving equal pay is to stop classifying people as men and women, but this will need an overhaul of mentality, according to Icelandic entrepreneur Rúna Magnúsdóttir.

“We are dealing with human beings, not men and women. Paying people according to the task at hand, and not their gender, is an economic issue. If we don’t tap into the available human resources, we will face human waste,” the CEO of The Change Makers, who first visited the island in 2000, told the Times of Malta.

Read: Government considers equal pay for equal work

People will not only be more productive if they feel valued for whom they are, but women – who make up half of the worldwide population – have already started choosing which businesses they want to invest their knowledge and energy in.

Businesses that continue to discriminate between men and women will not be desirable, and they will lose out on talent, Ms Magnúsdóttir noted on her latest visit to the island.

Iceland has just passed a law where companies need to prove that they pay men and women equally, with Malta showing interest in the initiative.

In Iceland there is still a gender pay gap of between 5.6 and 13.7 per cent, but Icelanders have come a long way. On October 24, 1975, women went on a one-day strike to illustrate how indispensable their work was for the country’s economy.

Read: Woman finds male colleagues are paid €500 more per month - investigation proves her right

On that day, women did not turn up for work and did not do any housework.

Malta remains EU’s second-worst gender equality performer

More than four decades later, in 2017, Iceland registered best overall score in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for the ninth consecutive year.

But in order to eradicate the pay gap, which still persists, Iceland became the first country to make companies prove they are not paying women less than male colleagues doing the same job.

Over the next three years, public and private companies employing more than 25 people will have to obtain certification which proves that they pay people equally irrespective of their gender. Without this, businesses will be fined up to €400 daily by the Centre for Gender and Equality in Iceland.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced that the government is studying the way Iceland was implementing this initiative. The government recognised that this would be a major reform and will be consulting employers to facilitate it.

Malta has made some progress in narrowing gaps but remains the EU’s second-worst performer in terms of gender equality, according to the same World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. The country ranks 93 out of 144 countries.

Ms Magnúsdóttir explained that the new law has gone down well in Iceland, despite protests about the cost involved in getting the certification. However, the certification will actually cost a fraction of one per cent – a low figure when compared to the gender pay gap percentage, she added.

“There will be resistance, especially in a culture where people feel that they can call women names if they stand up for what they believe in.

“There needs to be an overhaul of mentality and in order to kick-start the process, every single one of us has to reflect on what we stand for and start being the change we want to see,” Ms Magnúsdóttir said.

“Tapping into human power – and not gendered power – benefits all of us as it brings to the table diverse perspectives because of the unique experiences of men and women.”

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