Norway wants more women in executive positions

Siri Blindheim. Photo: Steinar Opstad

Siri Blindheim is the oratorical consulstant for “Female Future” athe American College of Norway in Moss, Norway. Photo: Steinar Opstad

A world-renowned program called “Female Future” has been running for six years and is now showing amazingly good results

By Steinar Opstad

Norwegian American Weekly

One of the instructors in the program is Mrs. Siri Blindheim. Siri is based in Moss, Norway, married mother of two. She was recently elected chair for the Moss-based American College of Norway, which works closely with the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.

The ancient art of dialogue is on the return amongst Norwegians, and for that matter to executives in other countries as well. What the Greeks learned from Aristotle’s principles has been considered something they did in ancient Greece and not a Norwegian invention. We may now think otherwise.

“The use of rhetoric in our training of women who are already working in private businesses or in public service is a way to teach them how to speak and write effectively,” says Blindheim, the oratorical consultant for the program and also chair for the now 20-year-old American College of Norway in Moss, Norway. The program is called “Female Future” and some hundred women have already joined the program —several of them are now in top leader positions. The overall picture of Norway – seen from outside – is perhaps that we have come a long way when it comes to gender equality; we had a strong women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Since the middle of the 1980s, Norway has had at least 40 percent women as ministers in the government.

“When we look at the labor market, Norway is among the top nations in the world when it comes to female participation. More than 70 percent of all Norwegian women take part in the labor force, but the Norwegian labor market is still much divided by gender. Most women work in the public sector – jobs that are considered by most as typically female jobs such as teachers, nurses, hotel and restaurant workers,” states Blindheim.

The Norwegian confederation of business (NHO) developed the “Female Future” program to recruit more women into top management positions in both public and private organizations. The program, started a few years ago is now “exported” to countries in Asia and Africa.

The NHO set up the “Female Future” project in 2003. In 2006 the project was revitalized and enlarged with more emphasis on management development, the leadership role and the importance of networking. The goals for the NHO’s effort on women and management include facilitating the private sector to be viewed as attractive place to work by women, increasing the percentage of women in the decision-making process in management as well as on boards, involving managers as prime movers in the process aimed at recruiting more women to executive positions and to board posts and facilitating executive responsibities, to be more easily combined with family responsibilities, balancing work and private life.

“A very central element in the ‘Female Future’ project is that the business leaders in the companies should be a driving force for getting more women into leadership positions. The ‘Female Future’ project does not recruit women, the member companies in NHO do it,” says Blindheim, and the companies must commit themselves to the program. The company is responsible for identifying talents and for motivating them to take on management positions and board posts at the end of a two-year period. The companies sign an intention agreement which is binding for both the company and the participants. To be selected by the CEO as a particularly talented woman has great impact and gives the individual woman a boost of self-confidence.

In September 2009, instructors from the program have been invited to Japan to teach these ideas.

This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on Aug. 11, 2009.

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