The panel discussed the power of role models and mentors in creating the next generation of women leaders, how to create pathways for women in leadership by removing the maternal burden at work, women in leadership challenging cultural stereotypes, women leaders in a man’s world.
Ambassador Nergaard focussed on the power of women on company boards and shared Norwegian experience on how to create real and lasting change. Firstly, to move the needle on gender equality, you need leadership from the top. Secondly, closing the gender gap is in the best interest of every country and company. Thirdly, to sustain this type of societal change, a holistic approach is needed, looking at areas such as education, parental leave for both parents, elderly care, and non-discrimination in the workforce.
In 2003, Norway became the world’s first country to impose a gender quota on the corporate sector, requiring nearly 500 companies to raise the proportion of women on their boards to 40%. The main arguments were that this would increase the competitiveness for Norwegian companies, it would make use of the entire talent pool in society, and it would ensure return on investment in education.
At the time, many were sceptical and did not believe that there were enough qualified women to fill these positions. Others felt that only professional qualifications should count, and that gender quotas were not the right remedy. The legislation has delivered what it set out to do - companies fulfil their requirements. The hope is that over time, this will help women build the competence needed to take on even greater responsibilities in the private sector.
In February, the benefit of diversity on boards was clearly communicated by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global – one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds – with the publication of a position paper on board diversity. The fund stated that boards where either gender has less than 30% representation should consider setting targets for gender diversity and report on progress. It stated that having fewer women on boards “may indicate that a board is recruiting too narrowly and does not have a clear view of the full range of backgrounds and competences required to be effective”. These considerations would guide the fund’s discussion with company boards, and Ambassador Nergaard concluded that if investors start regarding a lack of diversity on boards as a risk, companies better start listening.
Ambassador Nergaard pointed to the dialogue between Singapore and Norway on women in leadership, including the regular CrossBorder Dialogue in partnership with FutureBoards, Norwegian Business Association Singapore, BoardAgender, Singapore Institute of Directors, Human Capital Leadership Institute, ACCA, and the Malaysian Alliance of Corporate Directors. These dialogues have shown great enthusiasm and engagement, including from Norwegian companies in Singapore. She expressed confidence that the dialogue on these issues will continue and be strengthened by Singapore’s ongoing review of women’s issues.
The panel discussion, which took place on 1 March 2021, was organised by SunMedia Singapore and moderated by Ms Lavinia Thanapathy, Founding Chair of Inspiring Girls SG.
Media coverage here.