The role of women in Norway's economic success

State Secretary Marianne Hagen's remarks at the Economic Times Women's Forum in Mumbai 8 February.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Friends and colleagues,

It´s a great pleasure to be here in incredible Mumbai.

I am proud to join forces with all of you at this Women’s Forum, which has the bold aim of unleashing the power of half a billion.

Before I turn to Norway’s experience of women’s empowerment, I would like to touch on Norway’s partnership with India.

We highly value our close bilateral relations. India’s booming economy and geopolitical role make it an increasingly important partner for a small country that’s far away like Norway.

Developments in India will have a significant impact on how successful the world will be in fighting climate change and building a sustainable future.

The Norwegian Government is seeking to strengthen Norway’s bilateral relations and economic ties with India. Recently we released a new strategy for our partnership – with the promotion of business partnerships as a key ambition.

Particular emphasis is placed on ocean industries and the blue economy, which is, of course, of particular relevance here in Mumbai.

We see great potential for increasing cooperation and partnerships between our two countries in this important sector.

Ocean industries account for more than 70 % of Norway’s exports. With ocean activities as the backbone of Norwegian industries and exports, it is vital for us to continue developing sustainable solutions for the future.

India is an important partner in this undertaking. According to the OECD, the ocean industries are expected to create 40 million jobs and double their contribution to the global economy by 2030. However, the oceans can only be a sustainable growth engine if we preserve their health through responsible management.

Ladies and gentlemen,

India and Norway also share a history of prominent women leaders. Mrs. Erna Solberg, Norway’s Prime Minister, visited India last month with a large business delegation, adding new impetus to our cooperation.

When I talk about business opportunities, it is important for me to stress the need for sustainability. Sustainability is not just a matter of sound business practices; it is also a matter of using resources in a sustainable manner. And this brings me to the topic we are here to discuss today.

Women’s economic empowerment lies at the heart of the global goals for sustainable development. Gender equality is smart economics, and realising the potential of both halves of the population is crucial to achieving each of the 17 development goals.

This is something we are well aware of in Norway. Women’s participation is a pillar of our welfare state and has played a key role in our economic growth. In 2017, the rate of women’s participation in the labour market was only 5 % lower than that of men.

This didn’t just happen on its own. It’s the result of sound and targeted policies and political priorities, such as government-funded childcare and gender quotas for company boards.

You would be mistaken if you see these as handouts to women. They are policies that give Norway a competitive advantage. And the winners are men, women, children and society as a whole. It’s simply smarter not to keep half of the population out of the labour market.

The lesson that we have learned in Norway is clearly backed up by international research: Increased participation by women translates directly into economic growth, welfare and sustainability.

This means that the economic empowerment of women should be at the very top of every domestic strategy for economic growth.

For example, research by the World Bank shows that eliminating discrimination against working women could increase labour productivity by as much as 25 % in many countries.

A separate study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that the potential benefit of fully closing gender gaps in the workforce is a staggering USD 28 trillion increase in global GDP by 2025.

The facts and the statistics are clear, so at this point we should be getting past the why and go on to focus our attention on how to fully involve women in the labour market.

Women’s economic independence and potential can only be realised if women have full economic rights. We should therefore work to ensure equal inheritance rights and property rights, and non-discriminatory family law.

Combating violence against women and eliminating all legal obstacles to women’s equal economic rights must be top priorities.

Finally, access to quality education is essential for increasing women’s participation in the labour market. For young women in particular, this is the very basis for jobs and income.

Quality education is also crucial for women’s ability to hold political and economic positions in society on an equal footing with men. These are important reasons for the priority Norway gives to this field.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Norway now has one of the highest levels of women in the workforce. In political representation, Norway has almost reached gender parity. We now have a four-party majority Government in which all four party leaders are women. The three most senior roles in the Government – the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Finance Minister – are now held by women. So are the roles of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and President of the Storting, Norway’s parliament. Nearly 40 % of the parliamentarians are women – and I could go on adding to the list.

However, when it comes to women’s access to leadership roles in the corporate sector, there is still a way to go.

Thirteen years ago, Norway was the first country to introduce a legal requirement that 40 % of board members in all publicly owned and publicly listed companies must be women.

The authorities believed that a substantive push was needed to achieve real change. At the time the legislation was introduced, the percentage of women on the boards of publicly listed companies was 7 %. Today, it is more than 40 %, and contrary to the predictions of those who were critical of setting quotas, business is booming.

The arguments in favour of the gender quota were, of course, to promote a better gender balance on boards and to see more women in corporate leadership roles. The quota was also intended to make boards more representative. There was general recognition that increased diversity leads to better decision-making processes, which in turn benefit the company’s bottom line.

As I mentioned, women’s participation in the workforce has contributed substantially to the Norwegian economy. And Norway is a wealthy country. Most people assume this is due to our oil and gas industry. An equally important factor is the value of women’s participation in the labour force. And, in contrast to natural resources, this is a perpetual source of income.

The Norwegian Government will continue to build its gender equality policy on positive stimuli, such as start-up programmes, a focus on women entrepreneurships, and a separate database of women board members and managers.

Recruitment of women into leadership positions is essential in order to employ the best talent. Excluding women deprives companies, organisations and countries of half of the available talent pool.

Norway will remain a front runner in the field of gender equality and women’s empowerment. We would like the Indian Government to join us in this effort.

Let us continue to promote this cause together. It is simply the smart thing to do.

Thank you.