Equal Opportunity for Everyone at Work – Success Stories: Iceland

Equal Opportunity for Everyone at Work – Success Stories: Iceland

Iceland is a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean near the Norwegian Sea with an abundance of both geography and history. Yes, history, because it is associated with the legacy of the Vikings. They kept their old traditions, but recently they opened up heading into the 21st century. Iceland, a success story of gender equality, but more importantly, in terms of decent work. As we all know, the Vikings had a very patriarchal society, where women had almost no role. When the Viking raids reached the British Isles, they took women as slaves. According to a legend, these women were the ancestors of Icelandic women. Their respect for traditions can be observed even today: there are no family names in Iceland unless you are a foreigner (or an official misspelled your name). Your name is always patronymic, meaning you get your name after your father (or mother). For example, Jón Olafsson. It means Jón, Olaf’s son. His father’s name is Olaf. Another example, Helga Pálsdottir. It means Helga, Pál’s daughter. This is a part of Viking heritage, this is embodied in all the other Nordic nations (like Sweden, Denmark) too, however, they do have family names. They became more influenced by others, but Iceland was very isolated. They were part of the Kalmar Union (1415-1523; comprising the four Nordic countries as well as the Faroe Islands and Greenland). With the dissolution of the Union, Iceland became a Norwegian dependency. The latter one was under Danish reign, so this was a personal union with the two countries. This meant somewhat free internal affairs for each country, but a common foreign policy and army. During the Kalmar Union, the Black Death severely decimated the population, around 70% of the population was annihilated. The 16th century brought a change to Iceland, as well as to other Nordic countries. King Christian III of Denmark converted to Lutheranism and spread the new religion throughout the nation. In 1550, the last Roman Catholic bishop was beheaded along with his two sons, this meant Iceland also chose Lutheranism. The Danes imposed harsh trade restrictions to Iceland in the 17th century, meaning only Denmark could trade with them and the ports of Reykjavik (the capital) were only open to Danish ships. Then smallpox further decimated the population, killing almost a third of the Icelandic people. Between the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century was the darkest period of Icelandic history. They even had famine at that time, almost half of their livestock died. After the Napoleonic wars, the first independence movements started to form, backed by the Danish-educated intellectuals. In 1904, the Ministry for Iceland was established in the Danish cabinet. In 1918, they received full autonomy within Denmark, only the king was common to both. They functioned as a realm of the Danish territories. After the Nazis occupied Denmark, the Brits (and later, the United States) occupied Iceland to defend them against the Nazis. In 1946, they received full independence and abolished the kingdom, ratifying the Republican constitution. They never joined the EU, they are members of the EFTA, the European Free Trade Agreement. In 1994, they joined the European Economic Area, after which their economy was diversified and their GDP increased 32% by 2007. Unfortunately, they did not regulate banks well enough, and the global crisis caused the emigration of 5,000 people in 2009. They were close to bankruptcy in 2010. Then a woman, Johanna Sigurdardottir, rose to power. She managed to stabilize the economy, and it grew by 1.6% in 2012. Nowadays, their prime minister is another woman, namely Katrin Jakobsdottir (since 2017). She is a teacher of literature by profession. What does this signify? Iceland is not only a success story in gender equality but also quality education and decent work. A woman never abandons her country, either. Therefore, she is an idol to everyone in Iceland.

But why is this country a success story in decent work? Just after the crisis of 2008, the government introduced new laws, which affected workplaces a lot. The first one declared that gender discrimination was illegal. This affected the labour market as well. More recently, in 2018, the government took another action. They decided to accept the principle of “equal work, equal pay”. This means a woman must earn as much as a man earns for the same amount of work. Non-compliance means your company will pay a hefty fine. Gender discrimination became illegal in Iceland. The law will come into force in 2020. According to one of their ministers: “We want to break down the last of the gender barriers in the workplace. (…) History has shown that if you want to progress, you have to enforce it”. Furthermore, the same law requires that company boards must be at least 40% comprised of women. This is another step towards 21st-century-compliant companies. After the financial collapse of 2010, the government said: “women are the keys”. More and more women attained high-authority positions, which was also an important weapon against corruption. The law also states that every company with more than 25 employees must have a gender-equality program. What does that mean? Men should be more mature to comply with measures this century. There is a country, with around 320,000 inhabitants, with an abundance of geography, that could reach total gender equality and make it compulsory in schools. So, men should never oppress women because it will backfire. What country is successful at this in the 21st century? Which ones preserve traditions, but ask new questions, and bravely build a new world? Therefore, Iceland should be an icon for everyone around the world. Because they have done it. What are we still waiting for?

Calls to Action:

  1. Read more about Iceland
  2. Read the following article on their pioneering steps towards gender equality: Seven Feminist Laws Iceland Has That the World Needs

– Gergely Lázár

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of #WAYSWF.



Will we let someone use us as slaves? Will we just watch when someone makes more money but our money melts away so fast? Do we have to waive all rights to our life for someone else just to make them richer?

In the 19th Century, Albert PERSONS, Adolph FISCHER, George ENGEL and August SPIES in the USA abandoned their lives for everyone for better work conditions, for equality, and 8 hours of work. They aimed for better work conditions, living in peace and with dignity. But nothing is for free, and they faced oppression. They were punished and lost their lives after marches and protests (1). Afterwards, May 1st was declared “Labour Day” in numerous countries.

Years, even centuries passed. The world has seen the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd industrial revolutions (2)—capitalism, socialism, globalism, and other “-ism’s”. Each ideology has brought new ideas and ways of regulating working/living conditions. To date, what is the result? Developed countries took lessons from history and made conditions better for citizens, or maybe, can we say they became developed because they did so? What about 2nd/3rd world countries? Can the longest work hours make a country richer and more developed (3)? I think not because everyone should schedule a time to rest and for family, hobbies, etc. Only if we separate time equally for everything, we can be happy, positive and healthy. If we are healthy and happy, we can work better and effectively, which makes our country richer and more developed. But some bosses choose to ignore such standards for their benefit. They want to see their employees at work longer.

Let’s indulge in a small and easy brain gymnastics exercise. Let’s think about a customer relations clerk. He/she is the closest person to a customer during the day. The clerk must be joyful, helpful, healthy, confidential, friendly, and an analytical thinker. Let’s suppose that the clerk is working more than 8 hours a day. After 8 hours, can the clerk still be joyful or helpful? A customer will only see a tired face. Maybe an angry face and harsh words too. Not enough help, no smiling, nothing positive. So, this clerk cannot represent the company well. Moreover, because of him/her, the customer chooses to go elsewhere. Chalk on board: “a lost customer”.

It’s difficult to understand the persistence of such an employer. Just try to make your employee energetic and satisfied. After that, his/her performance will bring you more customers. The employer won’t get anything by making the employee more tired.

Whenever I go for a job interview, the first question is often “Can you work extra hours?” It means, “Can we use you whenever we want?” My answer would be “If your salary could be higher for more hours too!” I always insist “I am very careful about work hours because I have a life after work. Please take into account my personal life too.” Of course, with such an attitude, it is not possible to be hired! All the same, I will always defend the 8h-8h-8h rule. 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours of recreation. Even if I could be unemployed for months, I will stand for decent work for everyone.

Are you with me?

– Oğuz Yılmazlar

  1. May Day History: How May 1 Became a Holiday for Workers
  2. The Third Industrial Revolution
  3. Which Nationalities Work the Longest Hours?

Being Part of the System

Being Part of the System

I see some people around me always talk about business life even after their shift. It is easy to imagine that their lives are just about work-work-work, nothing else. They talk about how their jobs are stressful, how difficulties torment them like their lousy boss, work partners and so on—just complaints—they even criticise you for your position in life. They think that you have a comfortable career and only they are having trouble with business life. The most disturbing matter is that they believe they are behaving rightly and you are behaving wrongly—WHATEVER YOU DO. Even if you fall victim to an undeserved case of unemployed, they say that you are acting poorly, you must listen to them carefully because they know what is best!

I call such people “part of the system”. They become an integral part of the wheel of the system in my eyes. For me, business life is not life itself; business life is a mechanism to accomplish an intention. After my shift, I do not talk about my work day except when I learn something new or an exciting thing happened that I want to tell people. But, as I said, some people are eager to talk their heads off about their problems.

Each person’s life includes difficulties: some of us face illnesses or family-related friction; others endure an unstable business life, perhaps with malicious friends, or succumb to economic inefficiency.

If I am unemployed, it does not mean that I am doing something wrong, all I want is the best for myself—the best can be different for each of us, it’s relative; just yearning for the best until I get it. Just to have a job, I refuse something I do not want. If a man is working in a terrible situation, and this place was selected by himself, and if he wants to talk his head off about his problems, also if he insists on being part of the system’s wheel, sorry but let him go on his way. I will not be like him. I have principles, and I refuse a life if it’s not for me.

If a man is happy with his position at a company, and if he does not want to get a promotion, let him continue; it does not mean you can belittle him with a condescending lecture.

If a man is sick and tired of the company where he works and leaves it before finding a new job—even if such a decision has risks, let him do it—none of your business. Maybe he likes risks?

By and large, I want to point out that no one has to act like everyone else. Today’s work systems appear to cast everyone similarly, but still, somewhere, people think differently and freely. Make a point not to shape them as much as the system shapes you.

Feel free to live your own life. You never know, maybe there will be no tomorrow!

Drafted by Oguz Yilmazlar

What if we use more slaves today than we did before The War?

What if we use more slaves today than we did before The War?

In our AIESEC student days, we learned to look at TSOTW (the state of the world), find the issues that we were uniquely positioned to address, and then tackle them. We also learned to bridge gaps, to learn about things from the perspective of others and find common ground.

As AIESEC Alumni, we can turn those skills towards tackling globally local issues like modern slavery and human trafficking in ways that support our respective day jobs. If N2 Publishing, a media company in the United States can find an angle, what is yours?

Drafted by Chris Gassman


#SDG8 #SDG12 #WearBlue



Human Trafficking

Would you know this top-three crime if you saw it in progress? It happens in every industry to over 40 million people a year. #WearBlue

Drafted by Chris Gassman



If You Could Predict 90% of Bankruptcies, Who Would You Tell?

If You Could Predict 90% of Bankruptcies, Who Would You Tell?

As AIESECers, we are often shaking up the world from within and outside organizations. How are you leveraging public information to be the change you want to see in the world? (1)

Drafted by Chris Gassman

(1) ESG – Good Companies Can Make Good Stocks: https://www.dropbox.com/s/66fd9ngttq2ck7v/ESG%20-%20Good%20companies%20can%20make%20good%20stocks.pdf

“I Hire Smart People and Get Out of Their Way” – Lee Iacocca.

Nowadays, even with the development of more sectors, workplaces, factories and shops, finding the right job is much more challenging when compared with previous years; likewise, there are more job seekers. So, how do companies select the right candidate and how can a candidate be sure that this is the right job?

Unfortunately, it’s not only about numbers. I’ve noticed the problem sometimes depends on the ego of the boss! A job seeker has to create a great CV first to “sell” him or herself, send it to a company, and then eliminate competition through a series of interviews. Moreover, be ready to bump the ego of the boss or person responsible, even if you trust yourself, have enough experience, know a few languages and meet all the requirements!

For example, in Turkey, managers are around 45-60 years old, so they belong to the previous generation (baby boomers). They have never had a problem with continuous unemployment. Most graduated from high school and found a job for life never feeling the need to develop themselves any further by learning a second language, going abroad, reading books, or even go to a museum, theatre or cinema. For years, they have just gone from home to work and back again. Still, they know how to do their jobs very well, and these people reach the position of manager after years of dedication in the same company.

Generation Y’s problems begin here. They have the chance to go abroad and develop soft skills, learn a 2nd or 3rd language, study technology, do research and so on. Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, but many developed countries have been able to reach this point. So, we can say that Generation Y is a few steps ahead of Generation X.

Nonetheless, when managers in Turkey interview potential employees, they are thinking only one thing: “How can we manage them with our orders?” And, if candidates are well-developed people, managers believe that: “Orders cannot control them, so they (the candidates) should be eliminated. We need employees easier to mould,” they assert. Managers don’t care about what candidates can create or how they can take their companies one step forward even if they have great ideas and knowledge to contribute.

Managers only need slaves, not well-rounded employees or teammates.

So, talented people OUT, and submissive people IN!

Anyway, this is what I observe around me in Turkey. I wonder what is happening in your country?

Drafted by Oguz Yilmazlar



What If?

What if your commute created meals, energy, & new job security? As AIESECers, we learn to see the world differently, for what it could be. In which spaces are you asking “What if…?”

Drafted by Chris Gassman



Is Sustainable Economic Growth Reachable for Africa?

A while ago, a friend and I decided to check off an item on our bucket list: Going on an African Safari. Since our budget was fairly modest, we decided on South Africa. We’d decided on suitable accommodations and found discounted flights via Qatar Airways. All that was left were our visas and flu shots. Things got complicated when we got to the embassy and saw that we needed to leave a €1,000 deposit with them in case they needed to fly us back in an emergency. It might be worth pointing out that the budget for our whole trip was less than that!

Okay, so with Johannesburg out of the question, we decided to search for alternatives. Half of the countries we looked into were marked unsafe. In other words, we could not go anywhere without a group, military escort and/or security. Some of the packages were reasonable, with prices ranging from $US500-1,000 for a 3-day safari, but they also required flu shots that couldn’t be taken in our country of residence.

At one point, travelling to Morocco became a suitable solution. Sure, there’s no Safari, but at least we can walk around. Then we started reading about their laws, the dangers of being in an all-female group, and how it can get a bit unsafe at markets.

No thanks.

“New UN Report Encourages African Countries to Harness Growing Tourism Sector.” (1)

I read this article the other day, and it inspired me to write this post. Tourism’s role is supposed to help the African continent expand their economies. It is one tool that can help overcome both financial and political crises. Personally, I hope that countries in this region start being more tourism-friendly because, right now, Africa is a continent that remains unreachable for me.

Written by Petra Cvetanovic

(1) http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2017/07/new-un-report-encourages-african-countries-to-harness-growing-tourism-sector/

Case Study: How One Person Can Inspire World Change

Never underestimate the power of a passionate individual..png

Selina Juul, aka the Food Waste Fighter, is a woman that has a strong desire to effect change. When she first came to the lush and bountiful country of Denmark, she was overwhelmed by the amount of food you could find in the supermarkets. However, the downside of this was the immeasurable food waste you could see everywhere. In starting her journey for change, Selina helped lead Denmark to become of the most efficient countries for food waste in the world. Her initiatives led to a complete shift in mentality within the Danish population. How exactly did she do it? Check out her story below!

Never underestimate the power of a passionate individual. What are you passionate about? Maybe we can start the change together.

Written by Petra Cvetanovic.