On 1 January 2008, it became compulsory for Norwegian companies to have at least 40 per cent female membership on their management boards. Publicly listed firms that failed to comply could be closed down. The measure affects 487 public companies, ranging from Statoil-Hydro ASA, Norway's largest company by stock market value at $99 billion, to Exense ASA, an Internet consulting firm valued at $9.5 million.
Today, women fill almost 38 per cent of the 1,117 board seats at companies listed on the Oslo stock exchange. This is up from under seven per cent in 2002. It is twice as many as in Sweden, four times as many as in Denmark and nearly seven times the number in Iceland. It is also well above the average of nine per cent for big companies across Europe, 11 per cent for companies listed among Britain's FTSE 100, or 15 per cent for United States companies listed among the Fortune 500. The Government of Norway can proclaim this policy a success, and it has provoked a vital debate about women and work.
However, while supporters believe tough government-enforced measures work better than softer initiatives from within companies, critics argue that 'playing the numbers game' with gender in business will not succeed in altering entrenched corporate culture. The rule, they argue, risks sacrificing qualifications for quotas. The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, for example, has declared shareholders should pick board members, and measures should be voluntary. Supporters of quotas counter that the law on gender equality in business was put into effect because voluntary measures to increase the representation of women in business failed, and decisive legislative intervention was necessary.