A woman’s place is on the board ...
Oslo, May 3:
How’s this for girl power? In Norway, they have passed a law forcing companies to reserve at least 40 per cent of their boardroom seats for women. The country’s firms are scrambling to recruit female executives as directors, and the new rule is already causing friction at the top of Statoil, Norway’s biggest company, with government ministers calling for the chairman or chief executive’s role at the oil group to go to a woman.
Even in the famously egalitarian Nordic country there have been howls of protest. But Oslo is standing firm: if companies fail to recruit enough women by July next year, they will face legal action and fines. “There is no slack,” said the industry minister, Ansgar Gabrielsen, last week, “I would be surprised if businesses do not take care of this themselves, but if they do not do their job right they know what will happen.”
What is more, Gabrielsen comes from a centre-right government. He justifies the new gender quota with reference to profitability, rather than women’s rights. “My aim is value-creation. Ruling out half the population hurts financially in the long run.”
Norway’s key indicators are comparable to Britain’s: per-capita earnings of $31,000, unemployment at four per cent. And others may soon follow the Norwegian example. Over the border in Sweden, women’s representation on company boards surged to about 11 per cent from six per cent after the government threatened to impose quotas last year. Norway has not been a businesswoman’s nirvana - just 10 per cent of company directors are women. That’s a recruitment rate far below America’s, and quotas are seen in Oslo as the only way to tackle male dominance in the boardroom. But women have long matched men in Norwegian politics, led by former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. Norway was ranked the best place to live for women in a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study, partly because of generous social welfare programmes that help them combine parenthood with a career.