Christopher Weber-Fürst about the situation in Norway, where they introduced the quota 11 years before
In 2003 a 40% female quota on board of all public stock exchange organizations was introduced in Norway. At that time I was a newly trained coach and decided to focus on how I could support women in creating their career and at the same time have a healthy life/work balance. Also here in Germany the suggestion of a 30% quota has been introduced and it has been a very interesting discussion for and against it. All the arguments in the debate here are exactly the same as in Norway, for example:
- „The women do not have the right competence.“
- „These women do not exist.“
- „People should be recruited because of their competencies, not because of their gender.“
- and and and …
These arguments were very quickly proven to be wrong and several initiatives in Norway were taken to fulfil the obligation of the 40%. Now, 11 years after, we know a lot more how the implementation has worked and can raise the question: What has happened? We have to take a close look on a couple of areas to find the answer and I will try to give you a look behind the scenes to understand what could be the long term benefits of having more women on board and how to get them there. And one aspect can be said straight away: It is not about making women adopt to a male culture. It is about transforming the culture so that feminine qualities (traits associated with women) become part of it.
These traits are for example:
- team orientation
More diversity leads to better decisions
There is whatsoever no doubt that if an organization takes the strategic decision and successfully creates a culture that integrates the feminine qualities, it outcompete its competitors in all matters. A company earns more money or is more effective when the frame conditions are adjusted to the needs of women. The employer branding increases. This leads to the attraction of the best talents, both women and men. (What we see from demographics is that there will be a huge lack of people to fill the vacant positions created in the near future. The greatest challenge for HR departments these days is to meet this challenge and compete for the best talents which are women, and more women in the top management lead to more diversity.) More diversity leads to a better basis for taking better decisions and better turnover. When the feminine qualities are integrated in the workplace, leaders and organizational strategies are more effective, career mobility and personal fulfilment is underpinned and – maybe the most important in today’s society – these feminine traits help us adapt seamlessly to today’s changes.
The inner patriarch
When we take a look at the top of companies in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland, it illustrates how an abundance of policies aimed at closing Scandinavia’s corporate gender gap, including board quotas, are still falling short of putting women in the coveted CEO job. Of 145 Nordic large-cap companies, only 3% had a woman as chief executive, compared with 5% of the U.S. Fortune 500. So what went wrong with the expectations the 40% quota created? Let’s face the brutal facts: It’s still a men’s world out there. And not only a masculine one: It is also patriarchal, meaning that it is the men who create the rules of how our society and business is driven and managed. A fact that is going rather unnoticed amongst most people.
The patriarchy is a social organization of society that creates an inner voice in all of us: The inner patriarch. He is like the air that we breathe and tells us how we shall and must obey the rules of the patriarch so as to not be in someway punished. That voice is here and all over, in men and in women, but we don’t notice it. He is an inner lawmaker and carries within him a set of rules, values and expectations that are extremely influential. It is a 6000-year-old voice of our culture and has created in all of us an inner glass ceiling: A societal glass ceiling that holds women back from finding her inner voice. On the bottom line that voice allows women only two options:
- Option A: A women should be womanly, if not you are a failure as a woman.
- Option B: If you are womanly, you are inferior to men because traditional feminine qualities are inferior to traditionally masculine qualities.
What does the inner patriarch sound like? Here are some of his favourite opinions:
- „Women are too emotional.“
- „Women always overreact.“
- „You can never really understand a woman.“
- „Women should stay at home and take care of the children and household.“
- „Women are irresponsible, when it comes to really important things, they cannot be trusted.“
- „Women are less competent than men.“
We have to make this very clear to be able to understand what it is that holds women back from making a career. If you start looking consciously around you with newness and freshness: What do you see from this perspective? What is true about this for you?
It is sad but it is true: The quota has lead only to a bit more than 40% women on the board of public companies in Norway but not really helped to promote more women in other top leadership positions. However, something has changed and we have learned some very important lessons on how to successfully get more women on board. After 11 years with the quota, several women in Norway have found their inner voice and they have created for themselves and others great careers.
So what have they done?
„No one gets to the corner office by not sitting at the table“, as Sheryl Sandberg says. They have consciously decided to make themselves heard. They have found their inner voice. These women are great role models for the new generation of women who – with all their talents, genius and potential – want to have the same possibilities as men. Men say their success comes from themselves whereas women say their success comes from others. Women have to tell themselves that they themselves can create and deserve success. Believe in yourself, in your own success, learn the codes where you work, learn how to negotiate! Next is, you have to find a partner that is willing to share with you all that needs to be done at home: Taking care of the kids, shopping and housekeeping. Create an online calendar where both of you enter everything that has to be done. It makes life so much easier!
We all want to create a better world!
Now, 50% of the world population are women. Try to imagine what it would look like, if that number was also represented in business. What would this world look like?
A quota by law might not be the preferred choice from a business perspective, but the example of Norway shows that an appropriate handling can produce good results. Quotas help to attract women, but cannot manage to retain them. Previous approaches, which focused only on support through child-care programs and training of women fall short.
Companies that have a genuine interest in women in leadership go beyond this. They take account of the life stages and the individual strengths of women and men and promote a respectful cooperation in mixed management teams. A politically set quota would provide the necessary external pressure and improve widely the career opportunities for women. So, yes to the quota, but also more: What is needed is on the one hand a learning of masculine traits by women individually and on the other hand a collective learning of the feminine traits by the organizations.