Skip to main content

Gender Quotas for Diversity in Leadership

An international conference on diversity in leadership was held in Reykjavik on 29 May. The Centre for Gender Equality in Iceland organised the conference, at which new studies on the effects of the Icelandic gender quota legislation were presented.

In 2008, Iceland became the second country after Norway to introduce a gender quota law. The law provides that public committees, councils and boards must consist of at least 40% women and 40% men. In 2010, a similar requirement was imposed on private companies with at least 50 employees.

‘Time for men to stand up from their chairs’

Kristín Ástgeirsdóttir. Photo: Cia Pak (
 Kristín Ástgeirsdóttir. Photo: Cia Pak (

Kristin Astgeirsdottir, director of the Centre for Gender Equality in Iceland, said at the conference that the issue had been discussed for a long time in Iceland before the law was adopted.

‘We tried to push change without legislation but weren’t successful, so the law was eventually adopted. Those who criticised the initiative have become silent. I’ve long supported gender quotas and like to say that men have enjoyed quota privileges for centuries – men have always been on boards just because they are men. So it’s about time they stand up from their chairs and invite women to the table.‘

Astgeirsdottir points to several reasons for the lack of women in leadership positions. Masculine traditions and a male-oriented work culture are important factors.

‘People prefer leaders who are like themselves. They often appoint friends and acquaintances to board members, and so on. New studies show this. Leadership is not appointed in a professional manner. Add to this that family life often keeps women from taking these jobs.’

Important to carry out the discussion in an international context

When asked about the reason for the conference, Astgeirsdottir said it is important to keep the debate alive.

‘We still need more women in leadership and management. It is important to convince people of the need for diverse leadership. The conference was part of this ambition. It is also very important to carry out the discussion in an international context. We can learn a lot from international research and the debates in other countries. You hear the same arguments for and against the quotas just about everywhere. So it’s a good idea to get together and talk about it, find out what they do elsewhere to increase the share of women in leadership, discuss obstacles and find ways forward.’

Astgeirsdottir hopes the conference will bring attention to the new research on the effects of the quota legislation and on how board members are appointed.

‘I also hope the debate will remind companies and other organisations of their legal obligations.’

Updated 2 May 2020