Last week, I went to a talk by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Go and see her if you get chance; she’s good value.
She had a go at the French, which always goes down well with a British audience, and, in response to a question about unelected community leaders, she described Jack Straw’s constituency as one of the most corrupt in the country.
But the main thrust of her talk was that we have abandoned the notion of equal opportunities in favour of the woolly concept of diversity. If you think that sounds unfashionable, she went on to advocate positive discrimination, if only on a temporary basis, to make boardrooms and senior management populations more representative.
Few people advocate positive discrimination these days and I must admit that, until last week, I thought the idea was more or less dead and buried. Most of Yasmin’s audience didn’t seem too keen on it either.
However, Norway’s government is about to revive the idea. In theory, Norway has a state-mandated quota which calls for 40% of company directors to be women but, as often happens with equality directives, many companies have just ignored it.
So now the government is getting tough. Equality minister Karita Bekkemellem has warned all publicly quoted firms that, unless they comply with the law by 1 January 2008, they will be dissolved.
140 companies still don’t have enough female directors to meet the quota and could be closed down if the government goes through with its threat.
I haven’t been able to find any articles about the companies’ reaction to this ultimatum. Such a threat would be unthinkable in the UK. Governments here only have to suggest that rich business people should, perhaps, pay a little more tax and there are dire warnings about the flight of capital and firms moving overseas. Yet Norway’s government can, it appears, get away with telling firms who to have on their boards and threatening to close down over half its listed companies.
It will be interesting to see how this story develops. Will the companies comply or will they call the government’s bluff? If any Norwegians are reading this, or, for that matter, anyone else who can fill in some of the detail, please let me know.