A postcard from... Iceland

Our 'postcard from' series keeps you updated on key HR areas in different countries

Economic briefing

Iceland’s financial sector was particularly devastated by the 2008 global financial crisis, with the country’s three largest banks collapsing. Today the economy is showing considerable growth, driven by a boom in tourism and construction, and has low unemployment and a fairly even distribution of income. At the end of 2017 the nation appointed its second female prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. It is hoped Jakobsdóttir will restore political stability after a series of scandals in recent years; including allegations that her predecessor attempted to cover up his father’s efforts to help ‘restore the honour’ of a convicted child sex offender, and revelations unearthed by the Panama Papers that another predecessor’s family was storing money offshore.


With a population of around 339,747, Iceland is deemed one of the most progressive countries for gender equality, topping the World Economic Forum’s gender equality index for nine years. This is attributed to a number of factors, including men being entitled to at least three months’ paternity leave and high proportions of women holding senior and managerial positions.

Legal lowdown

On 1 January 2018 the Equal Pay Standard was introduced, making Iceland the first country in the world to legally require companies to prove they aren’t paying women less than men for the same work. The legislation means any organisation with 25 or more employees must obtain government certification every three years for its equal pay policies. This law follows the introduction of a quota requiring companies with more than 50 employees to have a minimum of 40% women on their boards.

From the HR frontline

Paul Robertson-Marriott, former interim HRD for Europe at Envigo, who has previously worked in Iceland, says many of the HR trends are similar to those in the rest of the Nordics. He says: “Being the smallest of the Nordic countries, [Iceland] does benefit from a high employment rate and is able to find skills in the local market thanks to a skilled workforce and language skills not being available outside the region. However, automation will disturb this employment balance and may increase unemployment.”