Norway’s boards must find more females

Joshua Jampol. Journalist

26 March 2003

Directors of companies on Oslo’s stock exchange are over 90 percent male. This could change soon, with a new law that would force firms to have a minimum of 40 percent women.

Norway’s Minister for Childhood and the Family, Laila Daavoey, is preparing a project that will impose the quota on public and private companies alike. The initiative is possibly the first of its kind, anywhere. But Norwegian firms have been talking about it for 10 years.

Ms Daavoey, former head of the Federation of Norwegian Nurses, will present her project in May. Apparently, a majority of Parliament is for it. The minister is a member of the Popular Christian Party, which is usually known for supporting more traditional roles for the sexes. That the 40-percent initiative has been backed by the center-right party has amazed many Norwegians. The Labor Party is usually behind such projects.

If passed, her law will become effective immediately for public groups with insufficient female board representation. The 600 private enterprises currently traded on the nation’s stock exchange will have until 2005 to comply.

Those that fail will certainly suffer image problems. But more than that, they could face elimination from the national roster of businesses, which means they would have to cease trading.

“The law seeks to create more diversity on Norway’s boards, and make better use of the talents and competencies of Norwegian women, who represent over 60 percent of our students”, the Minister has said. Underestimating women, while they comprise half the population, is “undemocratic,” she added. “Boards must also reflect the society we live in”.

According to figures from last year, women make up only seven percent of the boards of publicly traded companies in Norway, slightly above the European average. Seventy percent of these firms have no females on their boards at all. By contrast, in neighboring Sweden, 25 percent of firms count females.

The project, announced by the government one year ago, has sparked heated debate. Some bosses believe company owners should be free to appoint whomever they wish to sit in their boardrooms. Others welcome the diversity.

But headhunters are very busy in Norway these days, which suggests most firms are trying to get ahead of the new law, and that company chairpersons may be worried about not finding enough female talent to go around.

A national database has been created, which currently lists 3,000 resumes. Seventy companies have come together, each designating three, high-flying female potentials who could be possible candidates for board membership. The first wave of nominations is expected this month.

The law is currently being looked at with interest by other European governments, including France’s Minister for Professional Equality, who visited Oslo in February.

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