Jens Spendrup. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT
The chairman of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise has come under fire after saying there aren't enough competent women to fill senior management and corporate board positions.
Jens Spendrup, the 69-year-old head of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt näringsliv), made headlines in Sweden after an interview with Sveriges Radio (SR) at the weekend.
During the chat, he said that there should "absolutely not" be a quota of women in a company board and that women did not make good business people in general.
When asked if he was a feminist, he responded in the negative and added that he was against all kinds of "isms" besides humanism.
Following his comments, several commentators have lashed out at Spendrup for his remarks, including Peter Norman, Sweden's financial markets minister.
"My understanding is that they are very narrow in their searches. For example, if you have a listed company, I think it's always better to have a wider spread of competencies and experiences on the board," he told the TT news agency on Monday.
"But you often look for a conventional image, preferably an experienced CEO from a listed company, and so on. Of course, it's good to have someone like that on the board, but not everyone needs to be one."
Others have taken aim at Spendrup's comments about the lack of competent women available for senior management positions, including Anna Ryott, the managing director of Swedfund, which is a state-owned venture capital firm specializing in investments in emerging markets.
"I don't understand that argument," she told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.
"It would have been interesting to know what criteria the boards and nominating committees look for when they're looking for competency. Better equality in management is incredibly important for Swedish enterprise. This is about being an attractive employer for young talent... there are even studies that show an increased equality gives better profitability."
She added that such a view of female competency is "dated and old-fashioned".
Spendrup, who used to be the head of Spendrups brewery, has refused to comment on the storm, but the organization's spokesman said that the criticism against the CEO is taken out of context.
"This was a very loaded question but if you listen to what he says, it's about how women historically haven't headed companies in the same way as men and that this is something from which we're still seeing the consequences when it comes to women in positions of power," spokesman Peter Isling told media trade publication Resume.
"Jens expressed his frustration that it's going slowly and gave an explanation of why. This doesn't mean he is happy with how things look, rather the opposite. He is truly engaged in this issue and the last three manager recruitments that he has been involved have all ended with jobs going to women."
The confederation is Sweden’s largest business federation representing 49 member organizations and 60,000 member companies with over 1.6 million employees. Spendrup has been at the helm since 2013.