CSW60: Women’s Economic Empowerment

Statement by Minister Solveig Horne on the CSW60 side-event about Women’s Economic Empowerment, a UN Women’s High Level Panel, 15 March 2016.

| Commission on the Status of Women

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Norway is often scored as one of the three most gender equal countries in the world on UN- and other statistics. Gender equality has been a political goal since the early 1980s for all Norwegian governments, also for the present one.

Last year I presented a White Paper to Parliament on Gender Equality.

This is a political document where the Government lines up future policies in five crucial areas, including equality in the labour market and entrepreneurship. Women in business and on boards will be the topic of my introduction here today.

Sharing with you the Norwegian experience, I will bring you back to the turn of the millennium. In 2000, few women held top positions in business in Norway.

Few women were members of company boards. In 1993, only 3 per cent of the Public Limited Company (PLC) board members were women. Ten years later, in 2003, the number was 7 per cent.

That's why the Parliament 13 years ago (in 2003) adopted a new law demanding 40 % of either sex on the corporate boards. It was the conservative Minister for Trade, Mr. Ansgar Gabrielsen who proposed this law.

The law entered into force on January 1, 2006. According to the act, both sexes must be represented in board of directors by 40 per cent. Companies registered before this date, were given an additional two years until January 1, 2008 to comply with the law.

The increase in the number of women from only 7 percent in 2003 to 40 per cent in 2008 and today shows that this has been a mechanism for rapid change.

In parallel with the regulations, self-regulatory measures were launched by the business sector to meet the expectations. A number of data bases were established to identify capable women. The Norwegian employers' association created the now famous »Female Future« training programme that companies could join and send their employees to.

A modern, competitive economy needs the best heads and hands, regardless of gender. This is sound economics! The largest asset in any nation is educated and competent human capital.

We believe that talent and skills are equally divided between men and women. Norway did not take the risk of losing out on talents.

The introduction of gender balance created heated discussions. Companies were skeptical. Not all women were pro, either.

The party I represent, the Progress Party, was and still is against quotas. After we entered the Government offices in 2013 with the Conservative Party, we have agreed to uphold the present regulations. However, we will not introduce new ones.

Instead, we believe in positive incentives to nudge men and women in new directions. Our aim is to facilitate for freedom of choise and flexibility for individuals, families and business.

The Prime Minister also urge all her ministers actively to look for capable women to lead boards and public committees appointed by the government.

The often mentioned fear of not finding enough qualified women to fill board seats has been proved unfounded. Women on Norwegian company boards are generally younger than their male colleagues, better educated and represent a more diversified education background.

The stereotype wording of women not wanting to take on such responsibilities, has likewise been proven untrue. Apparently, we cannot even find the "golden skirt"- effect.

At the same time, the law has succeeded in forcing the nominating committees to work more professionally recruiting new board members.

There have been several international and national studies regarding profits – with different results. It's hard to find a direct correlation between gender balance on boards and the economic result of the company.

Ladies and gentlemen, Over the last ten years, female presence has changed from an almost total absence to about 40 percent women.

However, the spillover effect that was expected, remains to be seen. There is little evidence that this has led the largest limited private companies to follow suit to recruit more women to their boards. The proportion of women has remained stable at a lower level (18 percent women).

Also: The chairman is almost always a man - even in companies with legal requirements for gender balance. Nine out of ten chair of boards are men.

Norwegian senior management groups are still dominated by a strong majority of men. Also in companies with gender balance on their boards.

Only 4,5 per cent of the CEOs of companies listed on the Oslo stock exchange are women.

Introducing regulation on gender balance on boards has not been a quick fix in Norway. We still need to work to improve gender equality in the labour market and in the senior management groups.

That's why a research institute will develop a method for measuring the gender balance in top positions in Norwegian businesses. This so-called Gender Balance Scorecard will follow development over time. In this way we can measure progress both within Norway and how we stand internationally.

Many countries looked to Norway to learn more about our effective law. Some countries have implemented similar regulations.

As said, the Act implemented in 2008 has proven very effective securing gender balance on company boards. However, it has not had the expected spillover effect to other top jobs for women in business. In other words: There is still a way to go before reaching gender equality.

Thank you.