‘Government should put up or shut up on quotas’

'Government should put up or shut up on quotas'
Following signs from Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg that legislation to encourage gender equality in Sweden's boardrooms is getting closer, The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson canvasses opinion.

“I think it is irresponsible for the government to continue its scare tactics. If the government stands for it then they should prepare legislation, if not then they should cut out the threats,” Markus Uvell at free market think tank Timbro tells The Local.

Rebecca Lucander, CEO of the AllBright foundation that works to promote more diversified and meritocratic business, however, understands Anders Borg’s frustration at the lack of progress.

“I can understand the frustration that it isn’t progressing faster,” she tells The Local. “But the focus on boards obscures the fact that the proportion of women in senior management positions is even lower,” she adds.

While Markus Uvell is emphatically against regulation and doesn’t consider a lack of gender quality in Swedish boardrooms to be a general problem, he offers some agreement with Lucander on the management issue.

“The government is starting at the wrong end; the change, if one is needed, should be from the bottom up,” he says.

“I really don’t think a female board member would be any sort of role model for female employees further down the company; female middle-managers or senior managers would be, however.”

Uvell argues that the issue of the make-up of a board is a question for the owners alone and the government should not interfere.

“I think they should decide. Those companies which identify a problem can deal with it themselves. Legislation would, however, apply to all companies,” he says.

While Lucander expresses some understanding that companies are reluctant to allow the state to regulate the boardroom, she argues that the benefits of diversity and breadth of experience need to be given greater emphasis.

“The problem is the homogeneity among most board members in Swedish companies – they are the same age, same experience, same education. This won’t change just by getting more women into the boardroom,” she says.

AllBright’s roundup of 2013 paints a clear picture of who is in charge.

“The most common CEO is a man. His name is Johan, he is 51 years old, and he has a degree from the Stockholm School of Economics,” the report states.

Lucander argues that the problem and solution lies at the owner level.

“All companies should conduct regular evaluations. Look at the people on the boards and in senior positions and ask themselves – what experience, skills are we lacking and where can we improve?”

Uvell argues that while it is possible that some companies could benefit from more diversity at boardroom and management level, he points out that many operate in male-dominated industries.

“If a company operates in a male-dominated industry then the expertise will be held among men,” he says, arguing that quotas would not address this.

While Lucander has some reservations on quota legislation, she says that the government can do more to encourage progress, by for example praising companies that perform well and holding those that don’t to account.

“If the business code that is in place (stipulating a 40/60 split) is to mean anything, then companies that don’t meet it need to explain themselves,” she says.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

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