Started by cootewards, Aug 10, 2005, 04:33 AM
A woman's place is ... on the board Gwladys Fouché reports on a radical effort in Norway to enforce equality in the boardroom Wednesday August 10, 2005 Get more women on the board or we will shut you down. This is the Norwegian government's stark warning to companies in an attempt to break the glass ceiling holding back female executives.Like their British counterparts, Norwegian women have had a tough time getting seats at the boardroom table. In Britain, figures from a Guardian survey on executive pay last week showed that less than 10% of directors are female.In Norway the figure stands at over 15% in private sector firms but in a nation where over a third of MPs and eight out of 19 cabinet ministers are female, it is still a low number.But that could all be about to change. Last year, the Norwegian parliament passed a bill forcing private firms to have at least 40% women on their boards. Companies had until July to boost participation of their own accord. If the numbers are insufficient, which the state will decide by August 15, sanctions will be applied and they won't just be a slap on the wrist."If they don't follow the rules, at the end of the day, they will be dissolved," said Ansgar Gabrielsen, the 50-year-old conservative politician who initiated the law when he was trade and industry secretary."Companies will find the candidates they need long before they head to the courtroom," added the current children and family affairs secretary, Laila Dåvøy, who is in charge of gender equality. "It's not a demand they can't fulfil. They have hundreds of women they can recruit from."From September, new companies that do not comply will not be able to register, while existing firms will have another two years to find women for their boards. If they do not, they will be closed down.Unsurprisingly, the law has sparked a hue and cry in the business community."It is science fiction to think that the government is going to shut down a company that employs thousands of people over this," said Sigrun Vågeng of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO)."No one would say today that it's good to have only men in the top jobs, but it would have been better that companies were engaged in a positive manner, not through negative legislation."NHO favours a more flexible approach by, for instance, organising networking events where private owners can meet potential candidates. The organisation says that out of 400 women on their lists, a quarter have been offered management or board positions.It also run training courses in public speaking or how to present oneself. "Some men have asked us whether they can take them, because they find it would be useful," says Ms Vågeng."The law is full of holes," said Tore Bråthen, a law professor at the BI Norwegian School of Management. "For instance, it does not say whether a lawsuit can be brought against a company that does not apply the quota."The law affects around 600 firms, many of them large public limited companies that between them employ around half of the Norwegian workforce.The law has already caused ructions in some quarters. One recent case involved Norwegian tycoon Stein Erik Hagen, at the time he became the major shareholder in industrial conglomerate Orkla.As he wanted to sit on the board, one of the men he wished to keep had to leave, in order to meet the quota law. This loss of flexibility to over board appointments is tough to accept for many business owners and investors."Many people had to be kicked out of boards because they were men, even though they were competent," said Mr Bråthen. "It's already difficult to have shareholders agree, and the law has now made it even more so."Mr Gabrielsen, who is now health secretary, proposed the law because he felt drastic action was required."I could not see why, after 25 years of having an equal ratio of women and men in universities and with having so many educated women with experience, there were so few of them on boards."To me, the law was not about getting equality between the sexes, it was about the fact that diversity is a value in itself, that it creates wealth," he said."From my time in the business world, I saw how board members were picked: they come from the same small circle of people. They go hunting and fishing together, they're friends."Even before the law was passed, the number of women on boards increased dramatically. The number of women board members in private companies jumped from 8.5% in July 2003 to 15.7% in May this year. In state-owned companies, which had to comply earlier, the figure stood at 45% as of March 2003.This push from state firms means that nearly one in four board members in all Norwegian companies is a woman. Already more than halfway to its goal of 40%, Norway has the highest female participation in boards in the world, ahead of Sweden and the US. Now yet more cracks are set to appear in the country's glass ceiling.
From September, new companies that do not comply will not be able to register, while existing firms will have another two years to find women for their boards. If they do not, they will be closed down.
Of course, if there are less women in the boards it can't be a competency or presentation issue it must be a plot by men, right?. Now the excuse for Microsoft special training for women is that women are intimidated in a class with men, so they're not going to be intimidated in the boardroom? After all the criticism men get for being competitive and aggressive then how can women compete, unless we turn the boardroom into a knitting circle. If it is a question of competency, such as women not wanting to compete or wanting to spend time with their families, then it must follow that Norwegian firms will suffer and may find themselves bought up by multi-nationals who are more aggressive, in which case the Norwegian firms will end up as a branch office of some large multi-national and most of the work, be it admin or design or production will disappear from Norway.