11 Years of Female Quotas in Norway – What Has Happened?

Portrait Christopher Weber-Fürst
© Christopher Weber-Fürst - www.coaching-fuerst.com

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:

  • integration
  • listening
  • support
  • trustworthiness
  • reliability
  • encouraging
  • care
  • help
  • team orientation
  • flexibility
  • curiosity

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.


  1. Dear Christopher,

    thanks for the interesting text and you explicit statements concerning quota. When you write about the „inner patriarch“, is that equivalent to the observation that women are subject to the same „masculine“ stereotypes as men; that women in business would actually judge other women on similar grounds as their male colleagues would judge them? Reason being that women have been socialized with the same role models then the men.

    1. Dear Klaus,

      You are making a very good point. The inner patriarch works on all levels in business as well as in our society, for women and men. As you correctly write: the inner patriarch judge and compare how a woman judge other women on the same account as men do. If it only was that easy: the thing is that we have may of these inner voices, it’s a voice dialogue going on in our mind all the time. We have not only the inner patriarch, but also the inner matriarch, the doing self, the being self, the super ego or the inner critic, just to mention a few. For us to be able to raise our self awareness of who we are at our core, it is of absolute importance of having a sense of what these inner voices, which are all mental constructions, are telling us. If not, how can we set goals that are intrinsically ours?

  2. Dear Christopher,

    Thanks for the interesting article. It is disappointing that the Norwegian quota has not yet led to the much hoped for positive effects on female labour market such as an increase in the overall number of female executives, or a decrease in the gender pay gap. However, it is probably early days and changes might need more time to occur. Yet, I believe a quota will change people’s and women’s mindset and view on perspectives. Looking at German society: many things that used to be unthinkable only 50-60 years ago are normal today. Let’s hope that we see positive changes by the German quota much faster than this! Once, women will have left their minority status (>30%) they will be in a better position to change the rules of the game. Hence, striving to establish a different kind of leadership (like you describe in your article).

    In the meantime, I believe it is important for every woman to work on their own career, find their individual way. Meaning: being aware of their individual values and strengths. And also being aware of their personal beliefs and thoughts that limits them in developing a strong self-image and self-esteem. Also, woman need to know the rules of the game (power, status etc.) in order to play successfully the political games in our existing corporate world. For more background reading I recommend the link to a recent study of the effects of the Norwegian quota:
    faculty.chicagobooth.edu/marianne.bertrand/research/papers/Paper_and Tables_5_29_2014.pdf
    I would also be very interested in your experience with Norwegian companies and their programs to successfully implement the quota. That would be valuable insight for German companies on how to approach the journey.

    1. Dear Astrid,

      I totally support everything you write and I can promise you that for me, the issue of supporting women to find their inner voice and follow it with courage and compassion for others and themselves, is, from my perspective, the most important issue in the world today. It is inevitable seen in the perspective of the human evolution. So important that I am writing a book about it with the title „The Future is Female“ and together with a partner starting up social entrepreneurship called „The Future is Female“ with the vision: „Changing the world by supporting women to find their inner voice creating social, political and economic equality between the genders.“

      Thanks for info about how the quota has worked in Norway. In my opinion the greatest „glass“ to break through is the „inner glass ceiling“ in all of us. What is this invisible force that hold not only women back from finding and following their inner voice? In my research for my book I have found that it is the voice inside us called the inner patriarch, an institutionalized inner voice that most of us are not aware of. This inner voice tells us how we have to behave so as to be accepted by the patriarch, the outer patriarchal system that has such a huge impact on the world today.

      I would also love to share my experiences with you about my own way of working with female leadership and bringing more women on top management and you can contact me on christopher@m3m.no.

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