Women Hold Less than 35% of Leadership Positions in Large Companies

Ten years after a law was enacted to rectify gender imbalances on corporate boards, women still only fill less than a quarter of CEO and chair positions in Icelandic businesses, according to Statistics Iceland.

The proportion of women on boards for companies with more than 50 employees was just under 35% last year, having increased around one per cent from the year before. Per a law that was passed ten years ago, boards should never be less than 40% female—or less than 40% male for that matter. Women have not achieved the aimed-for 40% of corporate leadership positions since the law went into effect.

In smaller companies, where there are fewer than 50 employees, women make up an even smaller percentage of leadership positions, or 26% last year.

Hulda Ragnheiður Árnadóttir, chair of the Association of Women in Industry, told RÚV that the percentage of women in leadership positions increased significantly after the law was first passed, but little has changed since then and she believes that little will change in the absence of penalties.

Share of women in boards of directors by enterprise size 2009-2019
Statistics Iceland.

Bank’s Proposed Boycott of Male-Dominated Media Causes Stir

Íslandsbanki plans on altering its marketing policy. According to a statement made by the bank’s marketing and communication director, the bank will no longer place ads in media outlets where women are underrepresented. The bank’s announcement has garnered much attention, especially considering that Íslandsbanki is fully owned by the Icelandic State Treasury.

Saying One Thing, Doing Another

In an opinion piece published on October 21st on Vísir, Edda Hermannsdóttir – Marketing and Communications Director of Íslandsbanki – presented a “new path forward” for the bank. Encouraged by individual initiative in the fight against climate change, Hermannsdóttir underscored the importance of companies doing the same:

“We at Íslandsbanki have done our share of navel-gazing on these issues and have tried to take a new path forward; however, we were quickly confronted with the hypocrisy of our own rhetoric. We would talk about offsetting carbon emissions while also encouraging young children to deposit their savings into plastic piggy banks imported from China. We would promote equality with great vigour while also placing ads with media companies where few or no women are represented. We would raise the issue of gender imbalance while also doing business with male-dominated companies.”

Lamenting such hypocrisy, Hermannsdóttir announced a new policy:

“We’re saying goodbye to the plastic piggy bank and introducing the paper piggy bank; we’re no longer rewarding children for saving money with plastic products, instead, we’re focusing on enjoyable experiences; we’re avoiding companies who fill the room with only men; we’re no longer printing out reports on paper; and we’re no longer placing ads with gender-imbalanced media outlets. We’ll probably never be perfect, but we’re trying, for the sake of the future.

Parliamentarians React

Following an article on the piece in Vísir, members of Parliament debated the ethical dimensions of Hermannsdóttir’s proposal. In a speech before Parliament yesterday, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Chairman of the Centre Party, claimed that Íslandsbanki – which is owned by the government – was using its power to punish companies failing to adhere to the bank’s policy. Gunnlaugsson spoke of the “sinister” nature of a bank meddling in the operations of the media. Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance, emphasised that while equality was a good thing boundaries were another thing.

Responding to criticism by Parliament and the media, Hermannsdóttir clarified that Íslandsbanki had approved of a marketing policy predicated on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, among which are gender equality and climate action.

“It’s common for companies around the world to use their purchasing power for good. We’re hoping to encourage the media to better represent women, whether in terms of their employees or their interviewees.” According to Hermannsdóttir, the bank was not forcing the media to do anything. The intention was to start a conversation.

“This isn’t something that happens overnight,” Hermannsdóttir stated.

In the Spotlight

On RÚV’s news programme Spotlight (Kastljós) yesterday, Hulda Ragnheiður Árnadóttir, Chair of the Association of Women Business Leaders in Iceland, and Óli Björn Kárason, Chairman of the Economic Affairs and Trade Committee, debated Íslandsbanki’s proposed policy. Árnadóttir expresssed approval, stating that, at last, gender inequality was evolving from a mere talking point to a plan of action. Kárason argued that it was unacceptable for a government-owned company to decide to forgo business with other companies based on its own viewpoint on gender equality.

(Updated 09:00 AM)