Posted by: ingjerdschou | June 21, 2011

Innlegg Europarådet Strasbourg 20.6.2011 “More women in economic and social decision-making bodies”

President,

First of all I would like to thank Mrs. Gautier (the rapporteur) for this excellent report. 50% of the European population is female, however the proportion of women in economic and social decision-making bodies does not reflect this. In fact, if we look around the hemicycle, the majority of our colleagues are male. Not even 30% of the representatives in PACE are women. I therefore think that the report we are discussing now is both timely and appropriate.

In Norway more than 50% of university graduates are women. The number of women with university degrees is increasing all over Europe. But why is the number of women in decision-making bodies lagging behind? Human resources are in many European countries the most important form of capital. But why do we leave this resource largely untapped? We spend a lot of money educating and training young women, but we don’t facilitate their access to the arenas where decisions are made. It seems as if women have to jump higher hurdles than men in order to win a political seat, to be allowed at the board room table, or to be able to climb the career ladder. We need to break the “glass ceiling” once and for all.

President,
Whose responsibility is this? When it comes to equal opportunities in companies I believe it lies largely with the business community itself. But, for the public sector the government is accountable. It is up to us as political decision makers, on all levels, to take this responsibility. We need to facilitate the entry of women at the top level. But our role as political decision makers can also be extended further.

The report we are discussing today mentions Norway and our law on equal gender representation on the governing boards of public limited companies. In 2003 after many years with little progress in the number of women in board-rooms the Minister of Trade and Industry at the time proposed a law obligating the boards of public limited companies to consist of at least 40% members of the under-represented sex. The law was heavily debated, with the business community strongly opposing it. As of 2006 the law entered into force, and as of today all companies which it applies to has complied. Thus the sanctioning possibility of dissolving companies not complying has not been used, and the number of women in Norwegian board rooms is now at 40.2%. Today many of those who opposed the law say that they are happy with the results it has brought. I think the law is a good example of how we as decision makers can contribute to shrinking the opportunity gap. And I am happy that the Norwegian example has been of inspiration to other European countries.

It has also been interesting to see how the business community has responded to the law. From strong resistance when it was proposed, the Norwegian Confederation of Businesses is now running the program “Female Future”, giving women the skills and qualifications necessary for being board members. “Female Future” is a good example of how the business community itself is taking responsibility for facilitating women breaking through the glass ceiling.

The number of women in top executive positions in Norway is 27% in the public sector and 17% in the private sector. There is definitely room for improvement, and I hope that the increased number of women on company boards will have a spill-over effect. The Finnish study, which the report refers to, showing that companies which implement equal opportunities increase their productivity, is of great importance. I hope we will see more studies like this and that they can be a source of inspiration to women, businesses and decision makers alike.

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