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Women on Board(s)!

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs

Intervention in the hearing: – “Quotas for Gender-Balanced Public Administration?” by the Norwegian Minister of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs, Ms Rigmor Aasrud.

Intervention in the Hearing: – “Quotas for Gender-Balanced Public Administration?” – hosted by the High-level Group on Gender Equality and Diversity, European Parliament. Brussels, Thursday 24 March 2011.

Madam Chair,
Distinguished members of the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen;

First, I would like to thank Mrs Silvana Koch-Mehrin and the other MEP members of the High-level Group on Gender Equality and Diversity for this initiative and for the invitation to participate in your hearing today.

I would then like to convey greetings to the European Parliament from my colleague, the Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Mr Audun Lysbakken.

Mr Lysbakken would have liked to be here today, but he just returned this week from four months’ paternity leave.

In Norway, we believe in policies that allow parents to combine working life with family life. This involves among other things generous parental leave schemes and affordable pre-school day-care facilities. The inclusion of men in gender equality policies is equally important in facilitating female participation in working life and representation in decision-making processes – whether in the political sphere, the public sector or the private sector.

Human Capital is a decisive part of Norway’s economy, accounting for 82 per cent of national wealth. By comparison, oil constitutes barely 7 per cent.

The combination of a high birth rate (a fertility rate of 1.9) with a high female employment rate (80 per cent) can be seen as a return on investments in Human Capital!

The modern Norwegian welfare state is founded on women’s participation in the work force. This is the backbone of the Scandinavian welfare model.
Some of this is straightforward. A higher labour participation rate results in greater tax revenues, which can be utilized to expand the income security system and offer more comprehensive public services. Higher labour supply is also needed to perform these public services. Many of these services in turn facilitate job opportunities, for example, by moving the care of children and the elderly to some extent out of the family and into the public sphere. As a result, the economy benefits from the salaries both of the people caring for the children and of the women now free to join the labour force.

The so-called Scandinavian model is about how the Nordic countries are organized, particularly with respect to the welfare state and the labour market. This model has two main goals:
a high income growth and
an even income distribution.

Norway achieves both goals, and we couldn’t have done so without high female labour participation.

In this respect, Gender Equality is a driving force for economic growth and socio-economic sustainability.

But traditional patterns die hard; and results are sometimes dependent on radical affirmative measures, such as quotas.

Three reasons for quotas
There are three major reasons why Norway needed to apply affirmative measures, such as quotas:

First, sound economics!
Human capital is vital! A modern, competitive economy needs the best heads and hands, regardless of gender. Modernity demands diversity!

Secondly, a moral base!
Equal opportunity for all – regardless of gender. It is about democracy and representation. Quotas may be necessary to ensure equal outputs.

Thirdly, simply because they work!
If you want radical change and want to boost the participation and representation of women in decision-making, legal measures like quotas could make a difference!

Women in the central government administration
Let me give you some facts and figures on female employees in the government administration in Norway:

In 2009:

  • 48 per cent of the employees in the central government administration were women.
    Of these, 60 per cent had a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
  • 42 per cent of managers at the middle management level were women. Thus, the government has met its target  of 40 per cent women in such posts.
  • 31 per cent of managers at the top management level were women.

How did we get there?

In general
Norwegian women are well educated.
60 per cent of university graduates are women.

There is a high acceptance of working women in the population.
The employment rate (full-time and part-time) for women is 80 per cent.

In the government sector
The government sector is well known for having a generous and family-friendly personnel policy.

Politicians and civil servants alike have been conscious of the need to make use of women’s competence in strategic posts.

Some specific measures have been taken:
The Gender Equality Act promotes mild “positive discrimination”:
If two persons with the same competence are competing for the same position, the employer should choose the applicant of the underrepresented gender at the workplace or at the specific level of administration.

Job advertisements should encourage the underrepresented gender to apply.

Moreover, when recruiting managers where women are underrepresented, job advertisements should encourage women to apply.

Mentor programmes were initially only for female managers, but are now open to both genders.

Leadership training programmes at all management levels are not solely directed at women, but open the way for new female managers.

Sadly, we do see a tendency in Norway for more highly qualified men than women to seek posts in the private sector.

In the public sector, women hold 27 per cent of the very top posts, compared with 17 per cent in the private sector.

These figures show that we have not yet met our target of 40 per cent women in top managerial posts in the public sector.

This is a matter that needs our continued attention.

Quotas – Gender Balance on Company Boards

The Norwegian experience of the use of quotas for gender balance on company boards is also relevant in this context.

In 2002, only 7 per cent of the elected members of Public Limited Companies (PLCs) were women.

Today the level is 39.6 per cent.

In 2003, four different company laws were amended with a requirement of 40 per cent of either gender of the companies’ elected board of directors. This provision was enforced for Public Limited Companies (PLCs).

These legal proposals created a lot of heated discussion in the media and in the general public debate. Nevertheless, this was a golden window of opportunity to attract new and untraditional stakeholders to the front to discuss gender equality in all aspects.

In Norway, we have invested billions on educating our daughters as much as our sons. And the use of quotas is a means of securing a return on our investment and an improvement in the quality of our society. The quota is simply a tool for displaying women’s competence, not a goal in itself. But the use of quotas also results in diversity, which in turn leads to good management.

The often mentioned fear of not finding enough qualified women to fill board seats has proved unfounded.
According to a recent study by the Norwegian Institute for Social Research (Institutt for samfunnsforskning, ISF), women joining corporate boards are “just as qualified as the men,” in terms of education and professional experience.

Also, women are recruited in the same manner as men, mostly through professional networks.
Furthermore, 60 percent of male board members said there had been no major changes in board operations since the provisions came into force.
The quota provisions only concern Public Limited Companies (PLCs) (where there is a broad spread of shares) or state-owned or municipally owned enterprises.
In order to widen the scope of quotas, Norway amended the law governing the many small municipal enterprises to include a gender balance requirement for their boards in 2009.

However, this does not affect the 160 000 privately owned enterprises in Norway (mostly small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)). These privately owned enterprises currently have approximately 17–18 per cent women on their boards.

We hope to see more of a positive spill-over effect from the increased number of women on boards to real gender balance in corporate management jobs.

Being a board member is a stamp of approval. It makes women more visible, and more eligible for other posts in economic decision-making.

This brings me back to the previously mentioned reasons why Norway needed affirmative measures such as quotas:

Sound economics – A modern, competitive economy needs the best heads and hands, regardless of gender.

A moral base – Equal opportunity for all – regardless of gender.

Simply because they work!

To conclude; if you combine equality policies with modern, gender-neutral family legislation, ample parental leave, full coverage of affordable pre-school day-care facilities and flexibility in working life,
then you are better prepared for future challenges in terms of demographic changes, economic competitiveness, employment and social sustainability!

Thank you!


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