The exchange of good practices held in Oslo, Norway on the 10-11th May 2012 discussed the ways in which the participation of women in economic decision making can be increased. In addition to exploration of the host country’s approach, there were presentations on the approaches taken by two associated countries, Denmark and the United Kingdom and 14 other countries participated in the debate.
Attempts to increase the participation of women in economic life has a long history in Norway and is seen as part of the wider policy stance on gender equality and a desire to ensure that the country makes full use of all its human resource potential. Various voluntary measures were taken to strengthen the gender balance in certain areas of working life but with only limited success. Following the first suggestions of the introduction of a quota, in 2003 the Norwegian Enterprise Organisation (NHO) created ‘Female Future’ an initiative aimed at mobilising female talents into leadership positions and boardrooms. However, the voluntary approach was replaced by legislation that set targets for the composition of the boards of private companies. The effects of the legislation have been marked with an increase in the proportion of women on company boards from around 7 per cent to 40 per cent (the target level) but has failed to increase above this proportion for the past few years.
The approach in Denmark is somewhat different in that while it is fundamentally a voluntary approach, it relies on the strong cooperation of government departments and agencies and on a principle of consensus between the key stakeholders. ‘Operation Chain Reaction’ was launched in 2010 and contains five commitments that public limited companies are asked to make to improve the representation of women on their supervisory boards, drawing on the various parties (such as the owners, existing board members and recruitment agencies) to achieve this aim. Denmark has very recently developed a new legislation requiring companies to define targets for the proportion of board members of the underrepresented sex.
The United Kingdom has essentially followed a business-led approach centred on the need for economic growth and making full use of all the human capital available. It is also grounded in the comprehensive equality legislation and the considerable progress already made in providing the right environment for achieving a work-life balance. However, despite a decade of reporting requirements for companies, progress has been slow and so the Davies Report was set up in 2010 with a remit to review and consult on change. A quota system was considered but lacked support and so the emphasis is on encouragement and support to employers to increase the participation of women on company boards with the aim of spreading this good practice throughout the organisations.