The Ministry of Welfare is shaping a workplace equality index, that could be used to assess and certify whether Icelandic companies meet the right criteria and lead a good example in looking out for the rights and well-being of LGBTI+ workers. The index, which is being shaped in co-operation with Samtökin ’78, is based on an European model, with the biggest inspiration coming from IKEA.
“It’s an idea that we got when attending the IDAHO, International Day Against Homophobia in Copenhagen earlier this year, “ says Eygló Harðardóttir, Minister of Social Affairs and Housing. “I was intrigued by how much attention the Danes paid to queer issues in the workplace. There were several companies presenting their employment policies and how they ensure diversity and prevent discrimination. It’s obvious that they don’t see Corporate Social Responsibility as a façade that they present out in society, but also implement that responsibility in their interior operation.”
Eygló mentions IKEA in Denmark as a good example, a workplace with over 1000 people and very well-defined policy where LGBTI+ employers are taken into consideration. “Most companies here in Iceland have less than ten employees, so we would have to adapt and structure our own version of this index. But it would help to be able to assess and certify companies that meet the right criteria and lead a good example in looking out for the rights and well-being of LGBTI+ workers.”
Eygló hopes that a workplace equality index would raise awareness for the well-being of LGBTI+ employees and be encouraging for companies and corporations to look into their own employment policies and workplace environment. “So often we are focusing on what is negative but I’m hoping that it will become desirable for Icelandic companies to receive positive publicity. If they strategically ensure equality and banish discrimination, influencing other employers and spread positive atmosphere around workplaces in general, then that should improve their image and the job market.”
“This might also possibly lead to Iceland finally passing a law against discrimination in the job market, which is something I think is absolutely vital for us to do.”
She says such an index would have to be adapted to the number of small businesses in Iceland and that possibly this would entail co-operation with parties to the labour market etc. “This might also possibly lead to Iceland finally passing a law against discrimination in the job market, which is something I think is absolutely vital for us to do,” Eygló adds, pointing out that Iceland is one of few European countries that haven’t done so. “Which is certainly one of the reasons why we didn’t rank higher on the Rainbow Chart,” she says referring to a report that showcases the current state of play of the laws, policies and practices that affect LGBTI people in Europe today.
Iceland ranks at only 14 on the 2016 Rainbow Europe Chart, as reported. Does the minister hope that the implementation of such a workplace index would help authorities to get a higher score in the chart?
“My interest in a workplace equality index is not based on that Iceland can do better on some international score sheet; I simply think this would improve Icelandic society. To ensure that each and every one can flourish and be who they want to be, is why I am a politician. But I do hope that when assessing Iceland, these are the sort of things that will be looked to.
We notice that when assessments and comparisons are being made internationally, there’s much focus on the format, the legal aspects and regulations, rather than how things are in reality. We can’t just keep passing laws and regulations; we have to enforce them too. For instance, Iceland reached gender equality according to the law long time ago, but in practice we’re still struggling with attitudes and discrimination in society.”
Eygló points out the sad fact that only a few decades ago, openly LGBTI+ people moved away from Iceland as they didn’t feel welcome in Icelandic society, and then even years later when they returned, their biggest obstacle was usually to get a job. “Employment is such a big part of how Icelanders define themselves; we introduce ourselves and then our job title follows which is not necessarily the same the world over. Iceland has one of the highest percentages of participation in the job market and that’s why I think it’s so important that everybody is included and able to be active, working at whatever they fancy, not told to do this or do that because they’re this way or that way.”
The workplace index idea is now being shaped and might possibly be included in an action plan for queer rights, that’s being drawn up in the ministry by a committee that was appointed by Eygló in 2014. “We were really inspired by the conference in Copenhagen and started wondering how we could include this in the action plan. I was not the only one inspired by the conference, but also the representatives of the national queer organization Samtökin ’78. So hopefully we will see the index being a part of the committee’s suggestions,” Eygló explains, knowing full well that with regards to the uncertainty in Icelandic politics , it might be down to her successor in the Ministry to carry the torch.