Skirting the boards

Shortly after Norway proposed a law forcing listed companies to have women as 40 per cent of their directors, Mimi Berdal’s telephone started ringing off the hook.

By Richard Milne – Financial Times

The former corporate lawyer was contacted by many of the 500 or so companies that were scrambling to fill their boards with the requisite number of women. She now sits on 12 boards and regularly tops newspaper lists of the most prominent businesswomen. But Ms Berdal is just one of what have become known as the “golden skirts”, a group of Norwegian women who have become full-time non-executive directors on the back of the law.

“Everybody called the few women they knew from beforehand,” the 49-year-old says. “Only last week I was asked to become a director at a very large company but I declined.”

Politicians in egalitarian Norway, aware that by 2002 only 6 per cent of directors were female, legislated the following year to introduce the controversial quota, which came into full force last year. As a corporate and public policy experiment it is being watched by businesses and governments around the world, in the wake of a global financial crisis that many argue might have been averted if bank boards in particular had less of a testosterone-fuelled culture.

So how is the Norwegian attempt turning out? For a start, the country now has the world’s highest proportion of female board members. A study from Egon Zehnder International, the headhunter, shows that 44 per cent of directors are women. Outside the Nordic region, the counties with the next highest proportion are the Netherlands and the UK, both with 12 per cent. The European average excluding Norway is just 9 per cent – a figure that has scarcely changed in five years.

Read more on: www.ft.com

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