You’re fired!Imagine you’re one of the 13 men on this all-male board of a large company and are told five of you must go to be replaced by women. Unlikely? Not in Norway, where they’re enforcing a law that 40% of directors must be female.
Thursday March 6, 2008
The often male world of company directors. Photograph: Alamy
Rolf Dammann, the co-owner of a Norwegian bank, recently had his skiing holiday interrupted by some unwelcome news. The government had published a list of 12 companies accused of breaking the law by failing to appoint women to 40% of their non-executive board directorships. His company, Netfonds Holding ASA, was one of the dirty dozen – attracting international attention.
“I work in a man’s world. I don’t come across many women and that’s the challenge,” Dammann says. “The law says a non-executive director has to be experienced, and experience is difficult to find in women in my sector. People have had to sack board members they’ve worked with and trusted for 20 or 30 years, and replace them with someone unknown. That’s hard.”
This month, Norway set a new global record. It now has, at 40%, the highest proportion of female non-executive directors in the world, an achievement engineered by the introduction of a compulsory quota. Two years ago, after several years of voluntary compliance had failed to lead to a sufficient number of female board members, 463 “ASAs” – publicly listed companies over a certain size – were told to change the composition of their boards or risk dissolution.
“A woman comes in, a man goes out. That’s how the quota works; that’s the law,” says Kjell Erik Øie, deputy minister of children and equality, in the centre-left “Red-Green” coalition government in Oslo. “Very seldom do men let go of power easily. But when you start using the half of the talent you have previously ignored, then everybody gains.” Continue reading