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Norway Pushes for Women on Boards

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With the start of the new year, a Norwegian law mandating 40% of corporate board members must be female went into effect. The law, supported by that country's liberal government, gives publicly-traded companies two years to comply--or else they'll be shut down. Search firms and matching websites are already scrambling to link potential advisors with companies, as this New York Times article details. The questions, of course, are whether this quota is reasonable and whether it's necessary.

On the reasonable question, it seems to me to echo Sarbanes-Oxley: a good idea, but one thought up by politicians that don't get how businesses are run. Yes, corporate boards need more women on them, here as in Norway; in that country, about 16% of board members are currently women, though about 40% of its business-school attendees are female. But such a high quota with such a short time frame could result in unqualified women sitting on boards, something which neither the company nor the women benefit from.

It also raises a larger question, one that we here at Inc. were discussing recently as we looked at the high percentage of male-run companies on the Inc. 500 (and among the companies we cover in general). Why aren't there more women running fast-growth organizations, or sitting on their boards? Is it that they're there, but aren't seeking publicity in the same way the men are? Are they less interested in fast growth and high power, and more interested in work-life balance? Or is there an old boys' club keeping them from reaching the top?

Norway's government seems to be going with the latter argument. I'll be waiting to see how hard a time Norway's companies have filling this quota, and whether the heavily female boards have a tangible effect on the direction of the companies.

Last updated: Jan 12, 2006




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