The “Golden Skirts,” Norway’s New Quota Queens

The “Golden Skirts,” Norway’s New Quota QueeI can’t think of too many items I use that are manufactured in Norway, though perhaps some of their seafood finds its way to San Francisco restaurants. The Scandinavian nation, however, is worthy of note for progress in the quota industry.

Starting January 1, 2008, all public companies in Norway must ensure that women comprise at least 40 percent of their board of directors. This quota requirement – no other description will do – is based on a law passed in 2003 and is definitely not a suggestion. In early January, the Norwegian government gave companies that have failed to conform 30 days to shape up, or else. The penalties include “being dissolved,” according to the Economist. To avoid the law, a few companies have given up their public status. The effect on women is also of interest.

For whatever reason, Norwegian women appear little inclined to business management, and the search for women qualified to serve on boards of directors has proved difficult. In these conditions, some women have managed to gain no fewer than 25 to 35 directorships each. These multi-tasking quota queens have become known as “golden skirts.” As the term implies, their gender is obviously the leading qualification, not experience in business, finance, or leadership.

Some of the golden skirts have performed admirably, including vigilance in a case involving Iranian payoffs that resulted in some resignations. That is to be applauded but I should point out that job performance, even above the call of duty, is not an argument for quotas. Neither is it an argument that women make better board members, which some Scandinavian ladies appear to think.

Ms. Grace Reksten Skaugen, Norway’s “chairman of the year” in 2007, told the Economist that “women feel more compelled than men to do their homework.” She added, “We can afford to ask the hard questions because women are not always expected to know the answers.”

Something called the Center for Corporate Diversity notes that before the quota law, only seven percent of Norway’s board members were female. The current figure is 36 percent, better than Europe, with nine percent, 11 percent for Britain, and 15 percent for America’s Fortune 500. Norway’s figure does not mean that the various quota conformists are inherently better or will outperform any other company. The whole notion of quotas certainly does not come from the marketplace.

Sverre Munck of the Norwegian media company Schibsted told the Economist, “I am against quotas for women or men as a matter of principle.” So am I. “Board members of public companies should be chosen solely on the basis of merit and experience,” he said. I agree completely, but good luck, Sverre, with those Norwegian quota enforcers, who seem rather short on tolerance.

Quotas of this kind are feminist fallout, more evidence that bad ideas have consequences, including the dissolution of a public company for failing to find the requisite number of women for their board of directors. That is the business equivalent of the death penalty. What could be more draconian?

Here in California, voters have opposed such quotas in state employment, education, and contracting. Unfortunately, the quota lobby remains strong, and Scandinavian nations have a way of becoming models for what the feminist left wants for America.

The Norwegian model is one we need to reject, across the board. In a competitive global marketplace, American companies have better things to do than chase golden skirts. Like Mr. Munck, they should be against quotas, for women or men, as a matter of principle, and choose board members and workers solely on the basis of merit and experience. In 2008, journalists would do well to question presidential hopefuls, and all candidates for public office, for their views on the subject.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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