The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Norway’s glass ceiling cracked by new female business elite

Jan.1 marked a new chapter in Norway’s march toward gender equality, as the country’s government will now be effectively reinforcing a law that requires all publicly listed companies to ensure that at least 40 percent of administrative positions are held by women.

Passed in 2003, the law was designed to give corporations ample time to hire the nearly 1,000 women required to meet the quota. According to Norway’s Centre for Corporate Diversity, only seven percent of board members were female before this legislation was passed.

However, while all public companies complied with the law, many did so with reservations, while others decided to go private in order to avoid being closed for not meeting the quota.

“I am against quotas for women or men as a matter of principle. Board members of public companies should be chosen solely on the basis of merit and experience,” said Sverre Munck, head of international operations at the media firm Schibsted, to The Economist.

Munck’s attitude can be seen reflected in much of Norway’s main business lobby and stock exchange, institutions that have been long dominated by, as the NHO’s (Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise) Sigrun Vageng put it to BBC News, “the old boy’s network.”

But despite recurrent anxieties that many women’s relative inexperience in the boardroom will be the undoing of companies across Norway, recent events signify quite the opposite about what members of Norwegian business circles are calling the “golden skirts”: women holding high powered positions on multiple boards.

For instance, Ms. Reksten Skaugen of Statoil (Norway’s biggest oil firm) was voted chairwoman of the year in 2007 for her dismantling of an Iranian oil scandal her company had been involved with in 2003 under the directorship of the current chairman and chief executive. The board meeting she organized in response resulted in the resignation of both men, and her speedy promotion.

“This reform is a success. The most alarmist people told us the economy would suffer, that investors would flee Oslo, that the level of competence on the boards would plunge,” said Marit Hoel, the head of Norway’s Centre for Corporate Diversity (CCD) to the AFP (French Press Agency). “What we’ve seen is that the economy is doing very well, that the investors are still there, and that the women who have been appointed to the boards are more highly educated, more international and younger than their male counterparts, which creates a new dynamic.”

With only 15 percent of corporate directorship positions being held by women in the U.S. Fortune 500, some might argue that this sort of legislation is just as vital here as in Norway. According to assistant professor of sociology and women’s studies Kathryn Schmidt, however, the U.S. has a long way before a law of this kind is put into effect.

“I wouldn’t expect Norway’s quota system to work as well in the U.S. because it would be so challenged by our own strong individual ideas of meritocracy,”said Schmidt. “And I think that because we have had non-discrimination legislation, and that we have made progress, it may not seem as needed. But this does not escape the fact that in most places, especially in academia, the higher the rankings, the greater percentage of men you will find.”

As of now, Guilford retains only three women in its senior administration: Adrienne Israel, the vice president and academic dean, Rita Serotkin, dean of continuing education (CCE), and Erin Brownlee Dell, assistant academic dean for administration.

As for the Norwegians, much is yet to be seen, but their outlook, by and large, seems to be one of progressiveness and optimism.

“I think only time will show whether this will be good for business or not,” said Vorgeng to BBC News. “But, I’m sure that diversity, at the end of the day will be good for business, because there is no reason why we should pick candidates from only 50 percent of the population.

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