Norway

Rose Kenerson, Associate
Paul Hastings (New York)

Norway has long had a reputation for spearheading the gender equality movement, especially as it pertains to equal representation in politics.  In fact, Norway was the fourth country and first sovereign state in the world to give women the right to vote in 1913.1  The first female member of Norway’s Parliament was elected the following decade in 1922.2  Today, 70 out of 169 of the Parliament seats – or 41% – are held by women.3  In fact, the three most senior cabinet positions in Norway are currently held by women.4

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, Norway ranked as the second most gender-equal country in the world.5  The Norwegian government can attribute this success to its dedication to promoting women’s equality though economic opportunity, education, health, and political empowerment.6  These advancements have started to extend to the private sector, where we have seen an increase in the number of women on corporate boards.  Although Norway has not attained complete gender parity, it has progressed swiftly through the use of legislation and other government action.

Legislation, Quotas, and History

Norway has long fought gender discrimination and encouraged the promotion of women.  The push for equal political representation for women began decades ago.  The use of gender quotas to support this push began as early as 1975, when one Norwegian political party instituted a quota for representation of both sexes in its party’s positions.7  Although the Norwegian Constitution does not contain any provisions specifically aimed at gender equality, it does contain a general non-discrimination provision.  Article 98 mandates that, “[a]ll are equal before the law.  No person must be subject to unfair or unreasonable discrimination.”8  In addition, the Norwegian Parliament has passed several pieces of legislation that address gender equality directly.  These laws have aimed at regulating both government entities and corporations and have been on both the local and national levels.  They vary from more general laws such as the Gender Equality Act to more specific ones such as the Public Limited Liability Companies Act, which specifically addresses gender diversity on public companies’ boards.

The Gender Equality Act aims to promote gender equality and advance the status of women.9  Passed by the Norwegian Parliament in 1978 and revised in 2013, the Gender Equality Act calls for equal opportunities for men and women in education, employment, and beyond.10  Specifically, Article 3 notes that, “[d]ifferential treatment of women and men is not permitted” and Article 21 calls for each public body committee, governing board and council to have each sex represented.11  To ensure compliance with the Gender Equality Act, the Act grants power to the King to appoint an Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud and a Board who will work collaboratively to ensure implementation of the Act’s provisions.12  The Ombud’s purview extends beyond gender discrimination, however, and includes discrimination on other bases such as ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and age.13  As a public agency under the Ministry of Children and Equality, the Ombud’s goal is to address all protected grounds in all areas of society.

With the help of the Ombud and the passing of legislation, Norway has succeeded in increasing the number of women involved in politics and business.  The 1997 Norwegian Public Limited Liability Companies Act, amended in 2003, aids this goal by establishing the quota requirements for gender diversity on the board of directors in public companies.  As defined in Section 1-1, the Act applies to all public limited liability companies which are registered as such in the Register of Business Enterprises.14  Article 6-11a specifies the number of spots that must be held by each gender depending on the size of the board.  For example, if the board has only two or three members, both sexes must be represented.15  But if a board contains more than nine members, then at least 40% must be women.16

Total Number of Directors
on the Board
Minimum Representation
of Each Gender17
2 or 3 At least one or each
4 or 5 At least two of each
6 to 8 At least three of each
9 At least four of each
10+ At least 40%

This 2003 revision of the Public Limited Liability Companies Act establishing gender quotas drew criticism and sparked controversy.  Norway was the first country ever to introduce a gender quota in boardrooms.18  Norway required public companies to comply fully with the quota by 2008.19  Companies that did not comply could face dire consequences, as Section 16-15 grants the District Court the power to dissolve the company if it fails to comply with the gender quota.20  By February 2008, however, all public companies had come into compliance with the new law.  Although several countries have continued to criticize Norway’s use of quotas, this early initiation has proved successful, as Norway now has one of the highest rates of female board representation in the world, at 40.5%.21  This is a large increase from 2002, before the revision, when only 6% of board positions were held by women.22

Norway has also addressed gender quotas in the Code of Practice for Corporate Governance, which is issued by the Norwegian Corporate Governance Board and contains guidance for companies required to report on their policies and practices for corporate governance by the Norwegian Accounting Act.23  While not binding, the Code does require adherence through a “comply or explain” program, calling for all companies to either comply with the Code or publish reasons for failing to do so.24  The Code addresses gender equality by noting that, “composition of the board of directors as a whole should represent sufficient diversity of background and expertise to help ensure that the board carries out its work in a satisfactory manner.  In this respect due attention should be paid to the balance between male and female members of the board.”25  While the Code encourages diversity, its “comply or explain” requirement exerts less pressure on companies to increase female participation in the board room.

In addition to the national pieces of legislation, the Norwegian Parliament has also passed legislation aimed at local government bodies.  For example, the Local Government Act of 2005 strives for representation of both sexes at the local and municipal level by noting that, “gender should be a consideration when the body is established.”26  This aims to increase female representation on the local and county levels, with county chief administrative officers holding the power to enforce these provisions.27

Although the quotas have succeeded in increasing the number of women on corporate boards in Norway, it has had less of an effect on the number of women holding executive positions.28  In addition, while improvements have been made in public companies, private companies have had less success.  A February 2016 UN report noted that, “[a]mong private limited companies, which make up the majority of Norwegian companies, 18 per cent of board members are women.”29  The bulk of the advancement here has taken place in government and public companies, with much less progress in other arenas.

Conclusion

Although Norway has drawn criticism for its use of gender quotas on boards, it has succeeded in increasing the number of women on boards, especially on the boards of public companies.  In addition, it has succeeded in encouraging and promoting women in politics, with women holding the top three seats and a Parliament approaching 50-50 representation.  In order to reach complete gender parity, improvements still need to be made in top positions in management and in private companies.  Whether Norway will institute additional quotas to achieve this goal remains to be seen.


1 Tanya Heglund, 100 Years of Women’s Right to Vote in Norway, Oslo Bus. Region (Mar. 6, 2013), http://www.oslobusinessregion.no/100-years-womens-right-vote-norway/.  

2 Id.

3 Gender Quotas Database: Norway, IDEA, https://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/gender-quotas/country-view/228/35 (last updated Mar. 22, 2018); Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%),World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS (last visited Sept. 12, 2018).

4 Molly Fleming, Women Now Occupy Three Most Senior Roles in Norway’s Government, Independent (Oct. 21, 2017), https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/norway-government-latest-women-three-most-senior-roles-ine-eriksen-s-reide-erna-solberg-siv-jensen-a8012396.html.  

5 The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, World Economic Forum(2017), http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2017.pdf.

6 Id. at 10.

7 The Socialist Left Party instituted a quota of 40% representation for both sexes in 1975.  IDEA, supra note 3.

8 Kongeriket Norges Grunnlov [Constitution] (Nor.), https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Norway_2014.pdf.

9 National Legislation, Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Gender Research in Norway, Gender in Norway, http://www.gender.no/Legislation/National_legislation (last visited July 6, 2018).

10 Id.

11 Act No. 45 on Gender Equality (Nor.), http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/WEBTEXT/12790/64813/E78NOR01.htm.

12 The Anti-Discrimination Ombud Act (Nor.) (Feb. 20, 2007), https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dokumenter/The-Act-on-the-Equality-and-Anti-Discrim/id451952/.

13 Norway: Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud, Equinet European Network of Equality Bodies, http://www.equineteurope.org/Equality-and-Anti-Discrimination-Ombud-LDO (last visited July 6, 2018).

14 Public Limited Liability Companies Act (Nor.), https://www.oslobors.no/ob_eng/obnewsletter/download/20fd77664bccdf3f6b8cb0dc95eeb7bb/file/file/Norwegian%20Public%20Limited%20Liability%20Companies%20Act.pdf.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Id.

18 Taylor Fox-Smith, Corporate Governance and Statecraft: The Gender Nexus of Policy, Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (Mar. 17, 2018), https://centreforfeministforeignpolicy.org/journal/2018/3/12/corporate-governance-and-statecraft-the-gender-nexus-of-policy.

19 Douglas M. Branson, Initiatives to Place Women on Corporate Boards of Directors – A Global Snapshot, 37 J. Corp. L. 793, 803 (2012).

20 Public Limited Liability Companies Act, supra note 14.

21 Fox-Smith, supra note 18.

22 Sharing Norway’s Experience with Gender Quotas for Boards, Mission of Norway to the EU (Oct. 17, 2017), https://www.norway.no/en/missions/eu/about-the-mission/news-events-statements/news2/sharing-norways-experience-with-gender-quotas-for-boards (last visited Sept. 12, 2018).

23 The Norwegian Code of Practice for Corporate Governance, NUES (Oct. 30, 2014).

24 Id.

25 Id.

26 Gender in Norway, supra note 9.

27 Id.

28 Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention, Ninth periodic report of States parties due in 2016: Norway, U.N. Comm. on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 7 (June 1, 2016), http://www.refworld.org/docid/582d7ead4.html.

29 Id.