Skogen Lund is the executive vice president at mobile communications giant, Telnor
Skogen Lund: Quota has failed at promoting female leadership in private sector
When laws came in to effect in 2006, only 19% of top management positions were held by women
In 2010 the figure for women holding these positions has only increased to 22 percent
Editor’s Note: Kristin Skogen Lund is currently the executive vice president and head of digital services and Nordic at international mobile communications operator, Telenor. Additionally she is the president of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO). She was named one of 10 global women on the rise by CNN Money and by Capital magazine as ‘Norway’s most powerful woman.’
My home country Norway has gained international recognition for its pioneering legislative and policy work to promote gender equality in all aspects of society. We have 50% female ministers in our Government, 55% of managers in public sector are women as well as five out of seven party leaders.
In the private sector we do not see the same kind of development. This sector has traditionally been lagging behind. Therefore, to meet this challenge, parliament passed legislation in 2002 that made it mandatory for larger Norwegian companies to have at least a 40% representation of both sexes on their boards.
Today, we can state that the quota has so far failed to meet its main ambition of promoting female leadership in private sector.
Let me first comment on some of the positive effects of the quota law; in the fierce debate that followed the introduction of this extraordinary legislation, many skeptics argued that there were not enough competent women to fill these board positions. That the female board members hence would be stigmatized and that it would result in a club of “golden skirts” – a group of a few competent women who would share the most attractive positions among themselves.
Neither of these concerns has proved true. Furthermore, men have not been “sacrificed.” Statistics show that the boards were enlarged to make room for 40% women. And finally, the numbers of female chairmen of boards in Norway has increased from 5-10% in the past four years, indeed showing a positive trend.
However, the quota law has so far failed to meet its primary objective, namely that of promoting females into general management. In 2006, when the law came into effect, 19% of the top management positions in the private sector were held by women. In 2010, this figure had only increased slightly, to 22%. In other words, during these five years the law did not help women make much progress. These figures must be seen in the context of a very gender divided labor market in general; Norway has the world’s fifth highest participation of women in the work force. Seventy percent of the people working in public sector is women, and the majority of managers in this sector are, in fact, women. We do not lack female leadership as such; we are just short of it in the private sector.
The generally high portion of women in working life is a result of policies introduced back in the 1970s and 1980s when public kindergartens were made readily available to all and parental leave was extended from a few weeks to almost a year’s paid leave. Why then in “family friendly” Norway with its generous social schemes enabling women to choose their own career do women still prefer the public sector? I personally believe it has to do with a traditional tendency among women to choose education within areas such as teaching, nursing and social care – professions that are predominately linked to the public sector. There is also something about the perception of public sector being safe, predictable and perhaps less fierce and competitive in its nature.
So, what can we do to make more women choose a managerial career within business? We certainly need to solve it bottom up and not top down, like the board quotas tried to do. We need to start with parental leave. Men and women have very similar career patterns up to the point of the birth of the first child. If we could introduce a more even split between men and women when it comes to parental leave, this would eventually lead to different patterns of expectations and sharing of domestic responsibility.
It would also level out the risk for employers when hiring young talent; men will be just as exposed to parental absence as women. And perhaps most importantly; it would gradually change the social codes of what is expected and valued in terms of professional and domestic responsibilities. We have already come quite far in this respect in Norway, and social patterns and cultural codes have changed significantly over the last generation. Still, these kinds of changes take time, and we need to respect that such shifts cannot be forced from the top, they need to be stimulated from within.
Finally, I believe the most important changes takes place in business life itself, and in the mind of every manager hiring women. We need encouragement and we need sponsors who cheer us on. It starts with our fathers and husbands, and continues with role models and superiors who help build self confidence by giving constructive and positive feedback.
I know for a fact that I would not have been anywhere near my current position had it not been for all these factors working in my favor.