Norwegian firms scramble to recruit female directors

Remember that story about the Norwegian government imposing a gender quota on publicly listed companies?

Well it seems many companies have decided, at the eleventh hour, that the government might just be serious.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

As the law’s deadline nears, the scramble for female directors is intensifying. The U.S. search firm Korn/Ferry International says nearly every Norwegian assignment it has had in the past two years has involved finding a female board member. Norwegian citizenship isn’t a requirement, but it helps if directors speak Norwegian because it’s generally used at meetings and in board documents.

Prominent Norwegians are in particular demand. Thorhild Widvey, a former minister of oil and energy, has taken 11 corporate board seats, five of them at publicly traded companies, since leaving government in 2005. She spurned about 40 other offers, and is busy enough and earning enough — nearly $91,000 last year — that she no longer has a full-time job.

A public database where any woman could nominate herself has attracted preschool teachers, engineers and others with unconventional credentials. To train women to be directors, a major employer group called the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise created a Female Future project. So far, 590 women have participated, though only about 34% have landed board spots.

This is a good time to be a woman in business in Norway. If you have the qualifications and experience you can have the pick of the jobs. Some of the chaps are not happy though:

CEO and editor-in-chief of Hegnar Media, publisher of Norway’s biggest financial newspaper and newsmagazine, says boards have “kicked off some very good” members to make room for inexperienced newcomers whose “main qualification is that they are women.”

The 64-year-old, white-haired media mogul has unsuccessfully sought a board seat at Gyldendal ASA, owner of a major book publisher, since acquiring a 29% stake in 2003. Women snared both board vacancies during the period.

Predictably, some firms have delisted to get around the law but around 100 companies are still short of their quota of female directors as the 1 January deadline approaches.

The law was intended to break up the old-boys’ networks that ran some of Norway’s top companies.

At Aker, the board historically was “a club of old men. If you put me on your board, I’d put you on mine,” says Gerhard Heiberg, a former Aker president.

And after the new law?

Several Norwegian women on Aker boards recommended others from their budding “old girls’ network.”

As Dr Val Singh from the Cranfield School of Management argues:  

Looking at the Norway example, women in the pipeline get offered multiple directorships. It’s women who are already there [who are being offered the jobs]. So you’re not really expanding the pipeline…

From an old boys’ club to an old girls’ club. So much for progressive legislation, eh?

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1 Response to Norwegian firms scramble to recruit female directors

  1. hrwench says:

    Ugh. This is NOT the way to break up the old boy’s network. If I were a Norwegian woman I would be ticked off right about now.

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