Photo: Berit Roald NTB.Photo: Berit Roald NTB

Getting Women on Board

Norway is considered to be one of the countries where gender equality is most fully realised. This is a result of long-term political efforts by a series of Norwegian governments backed by the Norwegian parliament. One of the most famous and contested such measures is the “Women on Boards” Act, internationally dubbed the Norwegian Quota Law.

The Norwegian Quota Act
“Women on Boards” is a legislative act that requires at least 40 per cent of board members in limited companies (ASA) to be of either sex. The law took effect in 2006 but gave companies a  two-year grace period to fill their boards with at least 40 per cent women. Companies that did not fulfil this demand risked being dissolved – as they still do.

The quota regulation today encompasses around 2000 companies. In 2002, women made up 6 per cent of boards and the number had been growing very slowly over a long period. as a result of the quota law, female board representation has today stabilised at over 40 per cent. In comparison, private limited companies not covered by the law currently have only 18 per cent female board members.

Not everyone is happy
When the quota was proposed many within the Norwegian business community were against the proposal. Some felt the law was merely a symbolic act. Some doubted that enough women suitable for board positions could be found. Some even predicted a crash of the stock market and the end of Norwegian business abroad. History has proven all these predictions wrong.

One argument against the law has been that so-called “golden skirts” - women who collected an excessive number of board seats following the quota - proved how the law only creates a false sense of diversity. However, numbers tell a different story: The proportion of male directors holding four or more Norwegian boardroom posts is 1 per cent, whilst that for women is 2 per cent.

Good results for gender equality
It is broadly recognised in Norway that the quota has been an important driver for change and has produced good outcomes for company governance and for society. In addition, the law seems to have had an effect not only on the boards but also on the number of women in executive positions: The number of women in top management positions in Norway has now increased by 50 per cent: from 20 per cent in 2001 to 31,5 per cent in 2011. 

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