Norway’s War on the War on Women

Hat-tip to Jessica: Norway’s trying to crack down on corporate sexism ever more vehemently.

[Link] Under a new Norwegian law, all public corporations there have a year to put women in 40 percent of boardroom seats. Stephen Beard reports on the game of musical boardroom chairs that’s ensued.


Four years ago, before the Norwegian Parliament took action, women held just 3 percent of seats on listed corporate boards. Today with a quota in place that figure has leapt to 22 percent. Compare that to America’s Fortune 500 companies, where women only make up 14 percent of the boardroom seats.

The Norwegian government already sits on one of the most gender-equal nations in the world. If women only get 3% of the seats on listed corporate boards there compared with 14% in the US, there has to be something else at play.

Last decade there was an article talking about how the Norwegian government is paying parents generously to raise children. In a nutshell, the government pays parents to stay at home and requires corporations to contribute, and needless to say, women take advantage of this more than men. In both Norway and Sweden, these policies have completely skewed the gender balance in the private sector, especially in high-end jobs.

Corporations in these two countries get an incentive to discriminate against women. Women might disappear from work for 3 years while still drawing a salary; men legally have the right to, but in practice they generally don’t. It’s possible to explain the overrepresentation of women in the public sector as a result of the fact that traditionally female occupations are likelier to be governmental in Scandinavia than in less socialist countries; it’s not possible to similarly explain the relative paucity of women in Norway’s corporate boards absent quotas.

The Norwegian government’s supplemental solution, requiring men to take a small part of the total parental leave (4 months out of 3 years), is too insignificant. At its best, it means corporations have to pay men who don’t work 4 months and women 32.

A better solution would involve not quotas, or not just quotas, but attacking the system that tells women they should be mothers. It’s not the government’s business to encourage medieval family values. Part of it involves reducing parental leave possibly while stepping up daycare payments; another part of it involves making the gender distribution of parental leave more rigid (e.g. 18 months per parent, instead of 3 years for both parents).

Update: Apparently, there was some big confusion about the length of parental leave in Norway. It’s 52 weeks at 80% pay or 42 at full pay, and men only have to take 4 weeks, not 4 months (link). Thanks to Norwegian Feminist for pointing it out to me.


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