Norwegian entrepreneur and London Business School MBA Elin Hurvenes set up the company Professional Boards Forum in 2003 in response to the Norwegian Government’s introduction of a controversial quota law to bring 40% women onto company boards.
A non-executive board position is about skills and experiences but it is also a vote of confidence. It’s about status, power and networks. Recognising this Elin hosted a series of innovative events for qualified women executives aligning them directly with company chairmen and investors and immediately resulting in new board appointments.
She gathered support from Ministries and Norway’s most important corporations and is uniquely positioned in this largest transferral of power since women won the right to vote in 1913.
In the morning of February 22, 2002 the Norwegian population woke up to riotous headlines; the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Mr Ansgar Gabrielsen was unhappy with “the old boys’ network” on company boards and wanted 40 % women on company boards within 2 years. Should the business communities not comply he would follow with new legislation.
Believing that homogeneity leads to tunnel vision and group-think he reasoned that a country should utilise the full talent pool, not systematically ignore a full 50 % of the pool.
In the public outcry that followed Mr Gabrielsen’s proposal, CEOs, chairmen, shareholders, selection committees and company owners called the proposal “ridiculous”. The business community lamented: “There are not enough qualified women at this level. Women are not interested, that’s why they don’t serve on boards. Women lack the necessary experience and killer instinct for board work. We will not be able to find them, they simply don’t exist!”
Women were equally negative; “We don’t want to be on a quota-system, we want to be chosen for our skills and competencies, we don’t want to be second-class board members” was the general response.
As Mr Gabrielsen had not discussed the proposal with the rest of the Government and was met with massive opposition within the conservative coalition government. He showed great political courage and fought successfully for his proposal. A male, middle aged Conservative Minister revolutionised Norwegian boards.
Personally I was against the quota regime until one of Norway’s major entrepreneurs, a self made billionaire and someone I greatly admired made the following statement; “We should let nature take its course. In 100 years there’ll be as many women as men on company boards.” That put things in a different perspective as it would too late for me, my daughter and any possible granddaughters!
In October 2010 Norwegian business leaders and chaimen will share their experiences following the quota law at the “Board Impact – Leveraging Diversity” conference. www.boardimpact.com hosted by Elin Hurvenes.