Norway, or the highway

Government to corporate boards: Include 40 percent women, or close up shop.

Published January 12, 2006 7:31PM (EST)

From today's New York Times: "On the first day of this year -- and in the teeth of strenuous opposition from many Norwegian businessmen -- Norway's leftist government put into effect one of the more radical attempts to achieve sexual equality: requiring that in the next two years 40 percent of the board members of the nation's large, publicly traded private companies be women."

"The government's decision is to see to it that women will have a place where the power is, where leadership takes place in this society," said Karita Bekkemellem, Norway's minister of children and equality.

But despite the fact that Norway's got a whole entire minister for children and equality -- be still my bleeding heart! -- life there is not a matriarchal paradise. After all, where there's a law, there's something to correct: "The fact that Norway's government felt it necessary to set a quota for women in the top ranks of business and to enforce it as a matter of law -- the penalty for noncompliance is the disbandment of the offending corporation -- reflects a fact of European life that goes well beyond Norway. It is that the major countries of Europe are doing quite badly in promoting women to positions of power in business and, more generally, in achieving other sorts of diversity, especially racial and ethnic."

"The situation seems paradoxical," the Times notes, "given other elements of the European picture. Half or more of university graduates are women in many countries, and women are increasingly visible in politics, the media and elsewhere in public life."

"If women are at least numerically well represented in such other areas of life as academia, television and politics, why not in business? Some 40 percent of the students at Norway's business schools are women. Why are so few women on corporate boards?" the Times asks. "The Norwegian answer is clear: The men's club of corporate boards does not want to admit them."

OK, then!

Naturally, however, some blame the absence of women on ... women. "In Germany, for example, Sonja Müller, the managing director of Victress, an organization formed a year ago to help women get into business, argues that the business door is open but that women, looking for different, more balanced lives, have not been interested in entering."

Said Müller: "There's nothing that stops them except themselves." Mmhmm. Nothing besides the fact that the business world is designed not to offer the balance they're looking for.

Think maybe having more women on corporate boards -- however they get there -- could help with that?

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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