Quotas vs Charters - Are Attitudes Finally Changing?

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Keynote speaker, Elin Hurvenes, explained that in 2002 Norway introduced quota legislation for female representation on boards, which led to an increase of female NEDs from 6% to 40% and the quota was met in 2008.

Since then Norway has a consistent track record of gender parity in board rooms. She stressed that the quota was introduced with an exact purpose, and it worked, but there was no spin off effect on female executive appointments, as the focus was on influencing shareholders and people who select NEDs, not on succession planning within companies.

She observed that it takes about 10 years of commitment and preparation to prepare a good internal candidate for the CEO role, and women rarely get to sit on the ‘internal bench’ of prospective candidates, they often don’t even know that there is a bench!

These candidates get a lot of training over a long period of time, and when the board considers CEO succession, it looks to those on the bench.

She closed by posing a thought: If there was a collective commitment that in 10 years’ time 30% of CEOs were women, would it make a difference to behaviour?

Tamara Box loved the idea, and added that without firm individual commitment and accountability, e.g. by chairs and CEOs on behalf of their companies, people would wait for someone else to start tackling the problem and nothing would happen, and observed that Norway’s regulatory stick was a big help in achieving its goal.

Melanie Czarra commented that although she didn’t like the idea of quotas in the past, reality is that waiting for things to change on their own isn’t happening, and that regulatory oversight in the financial sector could easily be implemented as part of the bank stress test on succession.

Mary Honeyball voiced concern that if there were to be no ‘stick’, companies were likely not to implement changes, as they would be expensive.

Vicky Pryce agreed that quotas were needed and that closing the gap would take time. She suggested that timings of quotas for different sectors could be different, with cost incentives e.g. tax credits to provide a ‘carrot’ too, similar to how ‘carrots and sticks’ work in tackling climate change, and that regulation forces a mindset change.

Tamara expressed scepticism that the government would help and suggested a toolkit and Mary reflected on the experience in the Labour Party where an effort to get women into leadership positions and elected as MPs only worked through all-women shortlists.

Sawsan then opened the floor to questions, and a lively debate ensued around transparency on succession reporting, the fact that despite good progress in the FTSE100, women were not getting chair positions and chairs appoint CEOs, and progress further down the index, for female NEDs, was sketchy and variable.

There was agreement that no one thing would lead to success but that instead several approaches could be tried simultaneously; regulation and enforcement, cultivating a culture of being proud of bringing up female talent thought the ranks, being mindful of intersectionality, supporting all aspects of diversity and the power of activism were mentioned.

Monika Biddulph

Books, article and website mentioned:


“The Authority Gap” - Why women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it, by Mary Ann Sieghart

“Difficult Women” - A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, by Helen Lewis

“The Person You Mean to Be” - How Good People Fight Bias, by Dolly Chugh

“The Chair” - TV series on Netflix

“Inclusion nudge” first put forward by Tina Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski, incorporated into https://www.paradigm4parity.co...

Clockwise from top left: Elin Hurvenes, Sawsan Khuri, Tamara Box, Melanie Czarra, Vicky Pryce, Mary Honeyball
Clockwise from top left: Elin Hurvenes, Sawsan Khuri, Tamara Box, Melanie Czarra, Vicky Pryce, Mary Honeyball

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