The secret to the success of Reykjavik University

With a population of only 300,000, Iceland has an impressive nine universities. At one of the largest, Reykjavik University, a recent survey showed that 95 per cent of the staff members were happy working there.

The university’s financial situation is also improving year on year and some have attributed all this success to the women who work there.

One of the major changes at universities in the country was introduced by Svafa Gronfeldt, the female rector at Reykjavik University, who brought in equal pay schemes for men and women as one of her first orders of business.

Management team members systematically examined and eliminated all differences in pay between men and women. “That was a challenge,” Gronfeldt said in an interview with Guardian Unlimited, commenting that gender bias is built into many systems in Iceland and around the world.

The management team itself is made up of both men and women when traditionally board members are dominated by males. “With a management team that’s both men and women, you get different dialogue and perspectives,” she says. “The solutions [women] come up with are often surprising and different.”

Other changes at the university are not specifically gendered but are often considered more “feminine” approaches to education. In recent years the university has intensified its focus on inter-disciplinary work, interactive relationships and increased communication.

“The result turns out to be better profit. Every single year, the bottom line of the university is up – and I attribute that to this team,” said Gronfeldt.

Her statement is borne out by a survey of 353 Fortune 500 companies in the United States. Those companies with women in leadership roles have a higher financial return over the long run. The survey, completed by Catalyst, revealed that having three or more women serve on the board of directors was related to an increase of up to 35 per cent in company profits.

The changes at Reykjavik University have been highly successful. Over the last five years, the university has been voted as the best place to work in the country twice. For women, it means fewer barriers to professional success and equal pay for equal work.