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.

New Bill Proposes Fines on Companies with Gender-Imbalanced Boards

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

A new parliamentary bill would impose fines on Icelandic companies that do not fulfil a gender quota on their corporate boards, mbl.is reports. The bill was presented by Left-Green MP Lilja Rafney Magnúsdóttir and has the support of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who says she believes it will be welcomed by the business community.

According to the terms of the bill, which is currently under consideration in Alþingi, a daily fine of between ISK 10-100,000 ($80-790/€75-730) would be levied against companies whose corporate boards are not comprised of a legally mandated gender balance – namely that no gender may have less than 40% representation. The fine would be assessed until the company submitted an updated notice to the Register of Corporations showing a more equal gender balance.

According to recent reports, the percentage of women on corporate boards in Iceland is just over 30%, despite the fact that a higher rate is mandated by law and has been since 2010. It has also become clear that laws on gender quotas have not had the hoped-for spillover effect and led to more women entering executive or senior management positions.

“I think parliament should approve this bill,” the Prime Minister remarked during her speech at the Iceland Chamber of Commerce’s business conference in Harpa on Thursday. “…I believe that it will be welcomed by the business community.” Indeed, earlier in the conference, when Chamber of Commerce Chair Katrín Olga Jóhannesdóttir asked all attendees who were committed to being part of the solution when it comes to equality issues in the industry to stand, nearly every person in attendance did so.

“We all know that men and women are equal,” the Prime Minister concluded. “The fact that there are not more women executives [in Iceland] is a waste of human resources.”