Gender quotas in Norway quite the success

From yeterday’s Guardian:

Almost a quarter of Norway’s companies have failed to comply with a controversial law requiring them to increase the proportion of women on their boards to 40%, according to government figures. If they do not promote more women, they could be shut down.

Norway’s 487 public limited companies, including 175 firms listed on the Oslo stock exchange, have until the end of the year on Monday to implement a 2003 act that requires firms to boost the number of female directors.

The quota law was the brainchild of an unlikely feminist: a 52-year-old Conservative trade and industry secretary and former businessman, Ansgar Gabrielsen, who served in a previous cabinet. Gabrielsen’s focus was less about gender equality and more about “the fact that diversity is a value in itself, that it creates wealth.

“I could not see why, after 25-30 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,” 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 buddies.”

Very interesting. One rarely sees the argument in favour of a quota explained so clearly. They aren’t standard: quotas for minority places in Universities, for example, can run in real trouble as move farther down the table of University prestige – mostly because the discrimination begins at birth. By the time everyone is 18 or 19, it’s a bit late to force Universities (or the workplace) to fix things. For women in the workforce, though, Gabrielsen makes an excellent argument: why be like Australia, with women effectively taxed out of the workplace while we suffer a shortage of skilled labour?

I think the argument that diversity creates wealth, while the status quo merely secures it (for the status quo) is incredibly sound. Just look at politics in the US – 97ish percent incumbency rates in the Senate, a current White House administration that began with a Boys’ Club extending back to Nixon. Who could seriously argue that this is fostering the greatest level of innovation and creativity in solving the country’s problems? A little diversity in any government wouldn’t hurt (getting women and minorities through preselection/primaries, of course, is another matter).

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2 comments so far

  1. Rick on

    I’m not sure that this legislation has made Norwegian companies more diverse. A small group of women has taken most of these directorships. The Old Boys’ club has now been joined by an Old Girls’ club, drawn from the same social class.

    http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/norwegian-firms-scramble-to-recruit-female-directors/

  2. zooeygoethe on

    I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised. I’d still offer the counter-argument, however, that more women will be prepared, within their corporate environment, for such positions – meaning that they share the ‘fast-track’, development attention, etc. That to which you’re referring is more likely to be only a short-term shortage in the director-level pool of females (the social class/old girl’s club argument is going to be slightly off, but is also a different problem. If you want lower working class people on boards of directors, I wish you the best of luck).

    At the end of the day, women hit the labour force with at least as much human capital as men. The discrimination at the top is, by and large, a product of inefficient factor markets. There’s no reason why the same factor markets cannot be made to correct their own problem.


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