This website is the 2-year continuation of a research project on board memberships and gender in Norway (see Seierstad and Opsahl, 2011). The main foundation of the paper is a gender representation law that required all public limited companies to compose their boards with at least 40% of each gender by January 2008. The paper attempted to stike a balance between the urgency of studying the gender represention law and the amount of data available (the analysis relied on data from August 2009). This website tries to alleviate this tension by analysing data until August 2011. Note that the analysis only reflects the data used in the peer-reviewed paper.
The division of labor by sex appears throughout human history, and tends to be hierarchical, where men typically retain top positions and women remain relegated to the bottom of such hierarchies (Hartman, 1976). Although forms and patterns vary across countries and between regions, this division is pervasive across economic development levels, political systems, and diverse religious, social, and cultural environments (Anker, 1997). The absence of women in decision-making processes, especially on corporate boards has become a key concern (Burke & Vinnicombe, 2009). This has led to a growing interest among policy-makers in ensuring that corporate boards are gender balanced. Moreover, Huse, Nielsen & Hagen (2009) argued that the recent lack of confidence in corporations has given renewed attention to the areas of corporate social responsibility, corporate governance, and the composition and roles of boards of directors. As a result, the inclusion of women and employee elected members on boards is of substantive topical interest (Huse et al., 2009).
Randøy, Oxelheim & Thomsen (2006) found that Scandinavian boards were surprisingly homogenous in terms of sex. They argued that the low levels of sex diversity seem puzzling given the participation of the women in the workforce. This finding was supported in a study of all the Norwegian banks and the 200 largest companies in 2000 by Grønmo & Løyning (2003), where 14.3 percent of directors were women. As a result of vertical sex segregation in the private sector, in December 2003, the Norwegian Government included in the Public Limited Companies Act that the boards of directors of companies bound by the law should be gender balanced. In a dialog between the Norwegian Government and the private sector, it was agreed that the amendment should be withdrawn if the companies voluntarily complied by July 2005. However, the proportion of women had only risen to 16% (The Norwegian Government, 2008). Therefore, the Norwegian Government introduced in January 2006 a gender representation law requiring public limited companies to compose their boards of directors with at least 40 percent of each sex within a two-year period.
The goal of affirmative action is to increase equality among specific groups. Although policy-makers often see equality as merely equal representation of each group, equality is multifaceted and can be measured along many parameters. In the specific case of investigating the use and effect of affirmative action on equality on boards of directors, we argue for the need to define our understanding of equality. For example, a key aim of the gender representation law was to increase the influence of women. Although representation is a first step towards influence, influence cannot be derived from representation. Following Kabanoff (1991), we argue that equality goes beyond representation, and understand equality as the ability to influence.
In Seierstad and Opsahl (2011), we looked at three parameters of influence in addition to representation of women on corporate boards (H1a): the sex of the chair person (H1b), the emergence and sex of prominent directors (H2a,b), and directors' social capital (H3a,b). We utilised data from May 2002 to August 2009 to analyse these aspects. The pie chart above is the latest average proportion of women on the boards of companies that were registered as public limited companies on August 5, 2009. For in-depth findings and updated results, see each set of hypotheses' page: H1, H2, and H3.
The paucity of women in corporate decision-making processes poses a democratic problem as large companies have substantial social and economic roles in society (The Norwegian Government, 2008). Our analysis shows a substantial increase in the proportion of women on boards in Norway occurred only during the implementation period of the gender representation law, and especially towards the end of that period. This suggests that the law has successfully challenged the under-representation of women on boards of public limited companies, and made the boards more balanced in terms of gender. At a fundamental level, our data indicate that the legislative mandate of the Norwegian Government was a successful enabler for improving gender balance on corporate boards.
Nevertheless, more remains to be done. Women’s access to the most senior positions within boards remains restricted as the share of companies with a woman chair has remained low. In addition, our analysis indicates possible counter-effects of the law. Although more women have entered the boardrooms, our study finds that differences among directors have risen when looking at proxies for influence. We investigated changes in the number of boards that individual directors are part of. Being part of multiple boards (i.e., promient) is highly beneficial to directors as they gain exposure to knowledge from a greater number of companies than others. Our findings show that the maximum number of boards that a single director is part of has doubled during our observation period. This has led to the concentration of the benefits associated with prominence to a select few. Moreover, a select group of women have also become the most prominent directors. Since this benefit is only enjoyed by a few directors and associated with a particular sex, the intention of the Norwegian Government in creating a more equal setting can be questioned. The repeated use of a select few women creates a "Golden Skirts" phenomenon. One could anticipate that supply of eligible women directors would increase over time, and such prominence effects could decrease. However, at this time, the prominence of a few women directors largely skews the equality debate.
Furthermore, the changes to the composition of boards have affected directors’ social capital. By linking organizations, directors gain social capital as they control the knowledge flow between others. In a similar fashion as prominence, our findings show that the maximum level and concentration of social capital have increased, and women’s average social capital is more than twice the average for men. This indicates that, instead of women taking up peripheral positions, they are the knowledge brokers between others.
Acker, J. (1994) The gender regimes of Swedish banks. Scandinavian Journal of Management 10(2), 117-130.
Burke, R. J., & Vinnicombe, S. (2009). Women on corporate boards of directors: international issues and opportunities. In Vinnicombe S, Singh V, Burke RJ, Bilimoriam D, Huse M. (Eds.), Women on corporate boards of directors. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
Grønmo, S., & Løyning, T. (2003). Sosiale nettverk og økonomisk makt. Bergen, Norway: Fagbokforlaget.
Hartmann, H. (1976). Capitalism, patriarchy, and job segregation by sex. Signs, 1(3), 137-169.
Huse, M., Nielsen, S. T., & Hagen, I. M. (2009). Women and employee elected board members, and their contributions to board control tasks. Journal of Business Ethics, 89(4), 581-597.
Kabanoff, B. (1991). Equity, equality, power, and conflict. The Academy of Management Review, 16(2), 416-441.
Randøy, T., Oxelheim, L., & Thomsen, S. (2006). A Nordic perspective on corporate board diversity. Oslo, Norway: Nordic Innovation Centre.
Seierstad, C., Opsahl, T. (2011). For the few not the many? The effects of affirmative action on presence, prominence, and social capital of female directors in Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Management 27 (1), 44-54.
The Norwegian Government (2008). Representation of both sexes on company boards. http://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/bld/Topics/Equality/rules-on-gender-representation-on-compan.html (accessed on August 5, 2009).
The key goal of the paper where to understand the Norwegian gender representation law. We went through substantial effort to collect the necessary data to only investigate one side of the law. To allow other researchers to build on our work, we have made the data used for this research project available. For more information and the data files, see the underlying data-page.
Publications based on this data
Seierstad, C., Opsahl, T. (2011). For the few not the many? The effects of affirmative action on presence, prominence, and social capital of female directors in Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Management 27 (1); preprint (pdf, 1.38mb)
Opsahl, T. (2012). Triadic closure in two-mode networks: Redefining the global and local clustering coefficients. Social Networks 34; arXiv:1006:0887
Seierstad, C. (2011). Exploring the Norwegian paradox of vertical sex segregation: Strategies and experiences in politics, academia and company boards. Ph.D. thesis. University of London (Queen Mary College), London, UK (link)
Cathrine Seierstad is a lecturer in Human Resource Management Brunel Business School. Prior to that, she completed her PhD at the School of Business and Management at Queen Mary University of London where she was part of the Centre for Research in Equality and Diversity. Her research interests are centred on gender, leadership and corporate governance. Her PhD thesis addresses the use of affirmative action (AA) strategies in relation to vertical sex segregation in the Norwegian labour market. Specifically, it focuses on institutional laws and norms affecting the gender balance and diversity within organizations. She researched politicians, academics, and directors of corporate boards as specific occupational groups that are vulnerable to sex segregation effects. The thesis is entitled: 'Exploring the Norwegian paradox of vertical sex segregation: Strategies and experiences in politics, academia and company boards'. Using a multilevel approach to explore gendering practices, the thesis shed light on the processes underpinning and affecting vertical segregation and the strategies used to counteract it. As a result, the thesis showed how institutional norms and national laws affect the gender balance within organizations as well as identified the usefulness of various strategies by using a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Additionally, she has also written several book chapters and articles as well as held a number of presentations on the subject of vertical sex segregation, leadership, gender, and affirmative action. For an updated list of working papers and conference presentations, see her website.
Tore Opsahl is a research associate at Imperial College London's Business School, where he works on a number of projects related to network science and organisational design. Within network science, he has contributed to the literature on weighted networks and two-mode networks. These are types of networks that move beyond networks where nodes (e.g., people and organisations) are simply connected or not connected with each other. By utilising richer forms of network data, he has been able to device new statistics for analysing various phenomenons. Following his Ph.D., he broadened his work by joining a project to investigate organisational design issues for effective prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-programmes. This is a Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria-sponsored and UNAIDS-convened project that aims to identify areas for improvement in service delivery of treatment programmes. For an updated list of publications, see the publications-page on his blog.