Women on board for ceiling breakthrough

Sydney Morning Herald
January 10, 2006

By Gwladys Fouche in Oslo

THE 500 companies listed on Norway's stock exchange face being shut down unless they install women on their boards over the next two years in a radical initiative imposed by a government determined to help women break through the "glass ceiling".

Norwegian companies face a two-year deadline to ensure that women hold 40 per cent of the seats of each company listed on the Oslo bourse. New companies have to comply with the rules now or they will not be able to be created, and the Government is considering extending the law to family-owned companies as well.

The requirement came into effect at the start of this year after companies were given two years to embrace the demands voluntarily, following the passing of the law in 2003. State-owned companies are already obliged to comply, and now have 45 per cent female board representation.

The failure of companies to act - about half of the companies on the stock market are estimated to have no women on their boards - has prompted the Equality Minister, Karita Bekkemellem, to take the draconian step of threatening firms with closure.

"From January 1 2006 I want to put in place a system of sanctions that will allow the closure of firms," she said. "I do not want to wait another 20 or 30 years for men with enough intelligence to finally appoint women."

The initiative was the idea of Ansgar Gabrielsen, a former businessman and a trade and industry minister in the former government. "The law was not about getting equality between the sexes; it was about the fact that diversity is a value in itself, that it creates wealth," 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 are buddies."

Norwegian business is by and large opposed to the government initiative, preferring a more flexible approach, such as organising networking events where companies can meet potential candidates.

The director of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, Sigrun Vaageng, said: "The punishment is completely disproportionate It is far too harsh to close a company just because it lacks one woman."

She doubted that the Government would carry out its threat.

"It is science fiction to think that the Government is going to shut down a company that employs thousands of people over this," Ms Vaageng said.

The Guardian


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