It's now a law in Norway that large, publicly-traded companies must have at least 40% women in their corporate boards ... or risk dissolution:
"A woman comes in, a man goes out. That's how the quota works; that's the law," says Kjell Erik Øie, deputy minister of children and equality, in the centre-left "Red-Green" coalition government in Oslo. "Very seldom do men let go of power easily. But when you start using the half of the talent you have previously ignored, then everybody gains."
Businesses fought hard against the legislation, but they lost:
... even in Norway the quota went ahead only after years of ferocious debate and some resistance. As one male non-executive director who has survived the recent cull of boards put it, "What I and a lot of people don't understand is why it is seen as good for business to swap seasoned players for lip gloss?"
But such scepticism was not as widespread as one might expect. Ansgar Gabrielsen, 52, a Conservative trade and industry minister, and former businessman, is the unlikely champion of the quota. In 2002, in the then centre-coalition government, he publicly proposed a 40% quota on publicly listed boards without consulting cabinet colleagues. The law would be enacted in three years, he announced, only if companies failed to comply. The challenge was huge. Out of the 611 affected companies, 470 had not a single female board member.
Gabrielsen's reasoning at that time set the terms of the debate that followed. The quota was presented less as a gender-equality issue, and more as one driven by economic necessity. He argued that diversity creates wealth. The country could not afford to ignore female talent, he said. Norway has a low unemployment rate (now at 1.5%) and a large number of skilled and professional posts unfilled. "I could not see why, after 30 years of an equal ratio of women and men in universities and having so many women with experience, there were so few of them on boards," he says.