Why did Ansgar Gabrielson, a conservative minister for trade and industry in Norway with no particular affection for women’s liberation, flip the gender politics of Norwegian business leadership on its head in 2002? By that I mean, why did he suddenly declare without warning that 40% of all boardroom positions in companies listed on the Oslo stock exchange would be held by women within five years, or be shut down? This in a country in which, at the time, 94 percent of all board positions held by men.
The simple reason: Gabrielson was willing to look at the facts. Here I quote the Times UK Online (June 8, 2008):
“He was not driven by ideology aimed at creating equality between the sexes, he says, despite accusations that the quota law was created by ‘fetishists of diversity.’ The boardroom revolution he ushered in was inspired by studies in the United States showing that the more women there are at the top of a company, the better it performs.”
As a top minister for Norway, he saw an opportunity for a country whose population was aging, and who needed to draw on the talents of more of its citizens in order to compete. The Times piece quotes him:
“’What’s the point in pouring a fortune into educating girls… if, when it comes to appointing business leaders in top companies, these are drawn from just half the population – friends who have been recruited on fishing and hunting trips or from within a small circle of acquaintances? It is all about tapping into valuable under-utilised resources.’”
I have not yet met Gabrielson, but did have a chance to engage with other Norwegians last week about what their dramatic leap into gender equality at the top has taught them: the positive effects on business results for sure (very positive), but also very positive results for children, women and — guess what – men! It is fascinating story, and clearly provides a bold example of how any organization, even those outside the social support net of Norway, might think about re-populating the top of the house for competitive advantage.
More on this story in upcoming blogs.