A planned economy is implicit in the spirit of democracy.
~ The City of Man (1940)1
In March 2002 Norway’s “conservative” Cabinet Secretary of Trade and Industry announced that he was unsatisfied with the representation of women in Norwegian corporate boards. He wanted at least 40 per cent representation on all corporate boards.
Reuters put this news under Oddly Enough. Politicians from the same party reacted with fury. How could a representative of a party that believes in private property propose such a thing? This was however welcomed by other parties, including the Christian Democrats, a coalition partner. The affair ended in a “compromise”; the regulation would only apply to public listed companies if they had not increased their female board representation satisfactorily by the end of 2005. Doesn’t that sound nice? We won’t force you if you do as we say.
It sounds nice, doesn’t it? The owners of a public listed company may freely choose 60 percent of the board. That’s a majority isn’t it? Well, it’s not even that nice. Most Norwegian companies have requirements for employee board representation. Let’s say you have to have 1/3 employee representation2. That means the owners can freely choose 60 per cent of two thirds. That’s 40 per cent, and we have a minority of those board members freely chosen by the owners, and that’s best case. Hence, what started as minority representation of other than owners, seems to be ending up as minority representation of those freely chosen by the owners.
In Norway, we do not only have a large public sector. A major Norwegian newspaper recently reported that the amount of people living off government salaries or support was more than 50 per cent. We also have a considerable government ownership in the private sector, or shall we say business sector to be more precise. The government starts threatening privately owned companies before it does something about the gender representation in the corporate boards it may influence as owner. Moreover, gender representation in government agency boards serves as no good example given what the government believes to be good gender distribution. The government should have a sound plan for getting out of the business sector and reducing the size of government, but as long it has control over so many boards there definitely is something wrong with threatening before setting examples of how things should be done.
Gender distribution on corporate boards is not the only government gender innovation. Norwegian government, probably as most other democratic governments, if not a bit more so, is obsessed with equality. Gender equality is no exception. Norwegian companies are now required to report on their work for gender equality in their annual reports. This comes in addition to requirements for reporting on work for the natural environment.
At an evening meeting about boards I confronted a female editor in a major Norwegian newspaper, almost by definition a feminist, with the term “gender communism," used to describe the new corporate board requirements3. She was outraged. I actually gave her the math mentioned above. Nonetheless, she went on talking about corporations being a part of society and subject to legislation such as requirements for employee representation. I had argued that the new requirements would sort of leave the owners in a minority position. She thought the requirements for employee representation meant that the government could go on infringing on the rights of business owners. This only goes to show that once we’re on the slippery slope we will slip.
Another woman at the evening meeting referred to her work experience in the United States. She mentioned a program in the United States. The purpose of this program was to influence companies into employing women in leading positions. From what I’ve heard of affirmative action in the United States I’m not surprised. She was of the opinion that since the United States of America, the premier exponent of capitalism, could indulge in such programs, there was no reason for Norway not to adopt what I called “gender communism," and since similar phenomena could be found in the U.S., it was unreasonable to call it communism.