Norway’s firms take equality to the board

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act, and to add a further dimension to your article ‘Equality is the best policy’ (Personnel Today, 11 January) another set of research findings from Cranfield School of Management and the Equal Opportunities Commission serves to underline just how strong the glass ceiling continues to be in organisations throughout the UK.

Depressing though that is from the perspectives of unfairness and imbalance and the squandering of available talent, this year – at last – just may see the beginnings of a sea change. For while we in the UK hear one organisation after another paying little more than lip service to the need for many more senior women executives and main board directors, in Norway there is real and dramatic change under way.

In Oslo, this year marks major change. Just as in the UK, gender imbalance in boardrooms has been entrenched. Women comprise 10 per cent or less of all directors. And while years of endless debate has produced the apparent recognition of the need for greater progress by senior women, little has really changed. Does that sound familiar?

Now, at last, there is action, not words. Legislation taking effect this summer will require boards of directors of Norwegian companies to be made up of at least 40 per cent women. Those boards that do not meet the requirement will be disqualified and (theoretically at least) will have to cease trading.

Companies in the UK should be sitting up and taking notice. The implied threat of closure may be draconian, but if coercion is the only way to fairly harness the thinking and talents of half of the population, then 30 years on as we are, so be it.

Liz Willis
Director, The Springboard Consultancy


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