Blimey! Quotas for Board Directors!

Or: is Norway just a very good country to be a woman in?

This article from Guardian Unlimited caught my eye, unsurprisingly this morning! It looks at a new law brought out in Norway, which states that 40% of a company’s directors must be female; yes, my eyes nearly popped out of my sockets too! Apparently all but 12 companies have done it!!

There is a strong economic case for diversity in business and Norway at least recognises that ‘lack of experience’ (read: lack of supply) is not the only reason why in 2002 only 7.1% of board directors were female.

Are quotas the answer for us in the UK? Well, I suspect not. We have yet to recognise the benefits that diversity brings and we just don’t have the same culture of action in favour women’s equality that they have in Scandinavia. Although, its fair to say, that the debate in Norway’s was framed in terms of economic necessity rather than gender equality but I don’t see much evidence of even that level of sophistication in the diversity debate, if there is one, in the UK.

However, one comment by Marit Hoel, a Norwegian sociologist and the Director of the Centre for Corporate Diversity, made me smile as it reflect some of my own impatience with women’s position in business but also in terms of their representation in politics. She says:

"I would have preferred the quota to be voluntary - but that would have meant waiting another 35 years”.

Yes, 35 years, I’ll be 71 and hopefully settling down to lots of book reading and pottering, although with less money and pensions than my current male equivalents, of course.

Often when I am voicing my frustration at the slow progress being made in increasing the number of women in positions of power in politics, let alone in parliament I am told (most often it has to be said by men who are somewhat younger than me) to be patient as it’s all going in the right direction.

Well, it’s not going in the right direction for a start, we have 2 less female MPs now than we had after the 2005 general election and female membership of boards is at a 9 year low.

And as for being patient, it will take 200 years before there is equality in the UK parliament. I think it’s fair to say, even with medical advancement as it is, I’ll be long gone before then; so will hundreds of other skilled and talented women, already around, but sadly missing from the green and red benches. So telling me to be patient, that things are progressing OK, is a bit like telling me to give up and forget it.


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