Brian Hayes, Associate
Paul Hastings (New York)

The Danish Corporate Structure

Denmark has a dual-executive system of corporate governance, comprised of two tiers of management: (1) a board of directors (bestrylse) of three or more board members that is responsible for the company’s long-term strategy and (2) a board of managers (direktion) of one or more executives who oversee daily management. Members of the board of directors are selected during annual general shareholder meetings and typically serve one-year appointments, while members of the board of managers are hired by the directors as at-will employees.1


Women in the Workforce and Society

Denmark’s female labor participation rate, at 70%, is about 12% higher than the EU average.2  However, some have argued that Danish social legislation has an effect of perpetuating gender stereotypes, with maternity leave benefits outpacing paternity benefits.3 Further, it is suggested that Denmark’s progressive tax rate may discourage women from working longer hours and assuming extra responsibilities at work because any financial gain from the additional effort is lost to taxes.4  Though Denmark ranks high in gender equality with respect to education and women’s rights against discrimination, career opportunities for women in the political and economic realms lag behind other Nordic countries.5

Women in Corporate Leadership


In 2012, Denmark passed the Act on Gender Targets and related policies in an effort to advance the representation of women in company leadership and on boards.  The legislation, which went into effect in 2013, requires Denmark’s largest private companies (approximately 1,200 employers) to set targets, establish policies and report on results in both management leadership and boards.  Unlike other Nordic countries, Denmark has not imposed quotas; however, Denmark is the only Nordic country to require its largest companies to maintain policies on how they will attain executive management-level gender diversity.13 

Corporate Governance Code

The Danish Business Authority provides guidelines for Denmark’s largest companies to improve representation of women in their management bodies.14  The guidelines define “large” companies as those that satisfy any two of the following criteria for two consecutive financial years: (1) a balance sheet total of DKK 156 million; (2) net revenue of DKK 313 million; and/or (3) an average of 250 full-time employees.15  Generally, foreign companies that do not have a registered office in Denmark are not subject to the guidelines.16 

In addition, the Danish Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs’ Committee on Corporate Governance has issued a Danish Corporate Governance Code that applies to companies admitted to trading on a Danish regulated market such as the NASDAQ OMX Copenhagen A/S.  The revised code, which became effective on January 1, 2018, eliminated a requirement that companies create a specific gender diversity target, instead recommending that they develop and implement a diversity policy that promotes “a relevant degree of diversity.”23

Private Sector and Public-Private Initiatives

The Danish Advisory Council (DDC) is a partnership of the Danish Foreign Ministry, academic institutions and leading companies like McKinsey & Company, Maersk, PwC, and Microsoft.  The DDC aims to increase the number of women in top Danish leadership positions through such efforts as leadership programs and mentorships with female role models in order to build a long-term pipeline of women in leadership roles.24

The Boston Consulting Group and the United Nations Women Nordic Office sponsor the Gender Diversity Roundtable (GDR), an initiative consisting of 15 Danish business and other organizational leaders, to share their experiences on advancing gender diversity in management ranks. The GDR also produces publications to influence policymakers on efforts to increase female management participation.25

Non-Ethnically Danish Workers

Historical Backdrop

Like its other Scandinavian counterparts, Denmark remained fairly ethnically homogeneous before the 1950s, with a minority German presence in the southern part of the country.26  The first wave of foreign workers came to Denmark in the 1960s from Turkey to fill labor shortages associated with the post-war boom.27  Denmark viewed workers from other countries as “guests” or “visitors” until the late 1970s.28  As of 2013, two out of every three immigrants to Denmark have come from EU Member States, Norway or other western nations like the United States; its largest ethnic minority groups today are from Turkey, Poland and Germany.29  Denmark’s non-Danish ethnic population stood at 11.3% in 2013.30  By 2030, it is projected that 20% of individuals in Denmark between the ages of 20 to 69 years old will either be an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.31

Corporate Governance Code

The Danish Business Authority does not track the gender or ethnic composition of non-Danish citizens who sit on Danish companies’ boards of directors or boards of management.32  Data suggests that around 4% of directors are ethnically non-Danish (immigrants or their descendants), while about 3% of C-suite members are non-Danish.33 The Danish Corporate Governance Code recommends that, at least once a year, companies’ board of directors discuss efforts to ensure relevant diversity at management levels and adopt a diversity policy that is published on their websites.34


Denmark passed an Act on Ethnic and Equal Treatment in 2003, which bars discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.35  However, Denmark does not offer “positive action” (i.e., affirmative action) based on race or ethnicity.36


Denmark still has far to go to improve its gender equality gap; it ranks 80th in the world on the World Economic Forum’s gender gap in leadership scale and 39th in wage equality for the performance of similar work.37 And between 1995 and 2015, the number of female top executives at Danish companies only grew from 10% to 15%, while only 6% of all chairpersons are women.38  Yet one of Denmark’s leading employer organizations, the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), is optimistic. 

Charlotte Rønhof, DI’s deputy director, has praised Denmark’s incremental improvements. “She emphasises that the Danish legislation on the issue provides the basis to further the development. ‘It is worth noting that Norwegian companies, who have had mandatory quotas for women on boards for the past 10 years, have not got more female chief executives. Meanwhile, in Denmark we can celebrate the fact that the proportion of women has increased – both in corporate management and in boardrooms,’ said Rønhof.”39

1 Aleksandra Gregorič & Jesper Lau Hansen, Women’s Path to the Boardroom: The Case of Denmark, Gender Diversity in the Boardroom, Vol. 2: Multiple Approaches Beyond Quotas, 163-64 (2017).

2 Id. at 159.

3 Stephen Gadd, More women in the boardroom, Danish survey reveals, Copenhagen Post (Sept. 14, 2017),

4 Gregorič et al., supra note 1, at 177.

5 Id. at159-60.

6 Id. at170.

7 Tine Artensen Willumsen, Developing the Future Generation of Leaders, AmCham Denmark Event (Mar 1, 2017),

8 Gregorič et al., supra note 1, at 170-71.

9 Id. at 171.

10 Id.

11 Ben Hamilton, Danish female board member numbers soar without the need for quotas, Copenhagen Post (Jan. 19, 2017)

12 Id.

13 Iselin Løvslett Danbolt, All About Business: Nordic Women on Boards and in Leadership, Nordic Council of Ministers (2016),

14 Guidelines on Target Figures, Policies and Reporting on the Gender Composition of Management, Danish Business Authority 4 (Mar. 2016),

15 Id. at 4-5.

16 Id. at 6.

17 Id. at 7.

18 Id. at 8-10.

19 Id. at 13-15.

20 Id. at 12.

21 Id. at 15.

22 Id. at 18.

23 Recommendations on Corporate Governance, Comm. on Corporate Governance 13 (Nov. 2017)

24 The DDC Structure,

25 Gender Diversity Roundtable Denmark, (last visited Sept. 12, 2018).

26 Management and Diversity: Perspectives from Different National Contexts 263 (Mustafa Özbilgin et al. eds. 2017).

27 Id.

28 Research Handbook of International and Comparative Perspectives on Diversity Management 25 (Alain Klarsfeld et al. eds. 2016).

29 Management and Diversity, supra note 26.

30 Research Handbook of International and Comparative Perspectives on Diversity Management, supra note 28, at 25.

31 Stephen Gadd, Immigrant population numbers to rise steeply compared to ethnic Danes, Copenhagen Post (Jan. 5, 2018),

32 Gregorič et al., supra note 1, at 169.

33/sup>Lotte Hjortlund Andersen & Morten Kamp Andersen, ISS Whitepaper: A diverse leadership yields higher earnings 14 (Jan. 2016),

34 Comm. on Corporate Governance, supra note 23.

35 Erin Tolley, Multiculturalism Policy Index: Immigrant Minority Policies, Queens Univ. (2016),

36 New Policies to Promote Youth Inclusion: Accommodation of diversity in the Nordic Welfare States 65-66 (Rune Halvorsen and Bjørn Hvinden, Nordisk Ministerråd, 2015).

37 The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, World Economic Forum (2017),

38 Bodil Nordestgaard Ismiris, Denmark Has Great Maternity Leave and Child Care Policies. So Why Aren’t More Women Advancing?, Harvard Bus. Review (May 11, 2018),

39 More Danish boardroom jobs going to women: DI, The Local DK (Sept. 25, 2017),