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How Women Have Changed Norway's Boardrooms HBR NOW
4:07 PM Monday July 27, 2009
If you need sharp analysis of
by Kate Sweetman
business and management,
Tags: Boards, Gender, Global business you need HBR Now. This blog
brings timely, relevant insight
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It takes an open mind to incorporate the topics and trends that matter to
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Creating and Sustaining a Winning
of the world about the value of women
on corporate boards. Two years ago,
Without a winning culture to drive it forward,
most publicly-traded Norwegian boards your strategy is taking you nowhere.
themselves had to be forced by law to
Improving Productivity Collection
accept women in any sort of real In today's challenging business climate,
numbers. Traditional feminists (if there is such a term!) who maximum productivity is absolutely critical at
both the personal and professional levels.
believe that men and women are not only equal but the same
may be tempted to reject the positive differences between men Pump Up Your Volume!
and women that the Norwegian board members say they Twelve successful strategies for dealing with
the ever-increasing demands on your time and
experience. And men in charge of corporations everywhere who energy. Boost your productivity today!
have genuinely tried to on-board women and either 1) not found Search all of our products >
them, or 2) found them lacking will have to re-examine how well
they actually tackled that task.
Branding Career planning Change management
Coaching Communication Competition
In a week of interviewing the sponsor of the legislation, then-Minister of Trade Ansgar Gabrielsen, and a host of Norwegian
Conflict Corporate social responsibility Crisis
board members and chairs, I heard them say:
management Customers Decision making
...that women as a group provide particular, identifiable benefits to boards. Disruptive innovation Economy Election
2008 Employee retention Entrepreneurship
Women, in sufficient numbers, change board dynamics for the better. Why? Because as a group, women tend to display a Ethics Execution Finance Financial
different set of characteristics from men as a group — characteristics that broaden discussions, reduce unnecessary risks
crisis Gender Generational issues Getting
that a corporation takes on, and punish people who would increase foolish risks.
buy-in Giving feedback Global business Google
For instance, women tend to demand more facts and details. Said one former CEO and current board member: "If I had to Green business Hiring Human resources India
generalize about the differences between men and women on boards? Women are more interested in getting the facts. Information & technology Innovation
Much more prepared; ask many more questions. Men tend to shoot from the hip. Women on boards are also more
Internet IT management Knowledge management
interested in how the organization will actually work. Think of an acquisition or a re-org to take a company more global.
When women are in the discussion, they ask questions like: 'Don't just show me the Powerpoint. Who are these people? Leadership Leadership development
What are their responsibilities? Matrix type questions. Women tend to see the organization as more of a living thing."
Leadership transitions Managing
Women also tend to be more independent. When Statoil Hydro was confronted with its own malfeasance in Iran a couple of people Managing teams Managing uncertainty
years ago (bribes paid to secure access to oil fields): "The board did not handle it well. The chairman was informed about Managing up Managing yourself Marketing
possible corruption but gave no reaction. The CEO also failed to act. It was the women members of the board who drove Microsoft Motivation Operations Organizational
the change." culture Personal effectiveness
Politics Product development Productivity Public
Women are less about jockeying for position in the group, and more about understanding and solving the problem with as
much information as feasible: "In my observation, women don't drive for prestige as much as men do," said one
relations Recession Risk management Social
experienced male board chair. "They are more frustrated when they can't get their arms around everything that has to be media Strategy Talent management
done — but no executive can do everything that has to be done. Women are more diligent and responsible — they prefer Technology Time management
to take on what they can get done, rather than simply take things on. Women tend to be more honest about their
shortcomings than men are, and that puts them at a disadvantage."
...that most women need support to enter the board successfully. Stay Connected
Women need encouragement. Observed one long-time female board member (and former CEO): "Even very successful
women need more encouragement." This includes recognizing their style. For example: "Women need all of their ducks in Management Tip of the Day
a row to feel confident. Women spend much more time preparing presentations. Men shoot from the hip more." The Daily Stat
Women need coaching. Jannik Lindbaek, former Chairman of the Board of StatoilHydro, likes to support women entering HarvardBusiness.org Daily Alert
what he calls "the fraternity of men" on boards: "I help her to identify the stereotypes she will encounter so she knows what
How Women Have Changed Norway's Boardrooms - HBR Now - Harvard Business R... Page 2 of 5
she is dealing with. I give her the tools to handle the social process she is entering into. This includes hints for how to TheDailyStat
handle the first board meeting, advice on what to do and what not to do. I also give advice on how to ask questions — and
which questions to avoid...I help them to distinguish between curiosity and relevance."
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Finally, women need to make men feel at ease around them. Many board members I talked to observed that many men
HBR on YouTube
feel insecure in the company of women. The women can choose to help to make them feel more comfortable.
...that the leadership task of the Chairman of the Board is harder on a diverse board. Video Podcasts
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This message came through loud and clear. A very diverse board is much more difficult to lead than a homogeneous one:
harder to prepare for the meeting, harder to organize the agenda, harder to manage the group and harder to steer
members toward a decision. The advice they share to other chairs: ADVERTISEMENT
Prepare yourself as Chair. The Board Chair needs to think through and act on the dynamics of the diverse team. Be
willing to work communications outside of the meeting room. Give feedback that lets members know what they are
doing that helps the board (doing their homework, for example), and when they are letting it down (shutting down
other board members, for example).
Be clear about the demands you must make of others. "On a diverse board, everyone needs to be prepared," as one
person told me. "If they are not ready to participate, then the value of their diversity is lost."
Make everyone feel valued: build trust. "Diversity on the board changes the job of the leader of the board. The leader
needs to let the discussion open up, let the discussion flow. In terms of time, spend less time on the management
presentation and more time on discussion. Allow the board members to speak their minds. Let them open up and
How can we get more women on Boards in the US? In other countries? Do you think that companies would be run any
Kate Sweetman, a former editor at the Harvard Business Review and co-author of The Leadership Code: 5 Rules to Lead
By, creates leadership development solutions at the individual, group and organizational levels. She can be reached at
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I found this interesting, however, I feel that it is important to distinguish the changes and observations as differences
not in gender but in leadership style or approach. There are men that embody characteristics that are traditionally
thought to be feminine and vice versa.
- Posted by Kirsten Bonanza
July 29, 2009 5:21 PM
It would be interesting to compare the dynamics and effectiveness of non-profit boards versus for-profit boards, either
globally or here in the U.S., to see how much correlation exists between board composition and success in achieving
goals. My expectation would be that non-profit boards have a much greater representation of women than for-profit
boards overall, but not necessarily a better balance of communication styles or leadership.
How Women Have Changed Norway's Boardrooms - HBR Now - Harvard Business R... Page 3 of 5
- Posted by Lisa Halm
July 29, 2009 9:56 PM
You note that to change board dynamics for the better, women need to be present "in sufficient numbers". I'm curious
whether the Norwegian study provides data to indicate the percentage of women that boards need to change their
culture....One in three members?
- Posted by Michele Swanson
July 29, 2009 10:29 PM
This is why I believe that almost nobody wants a meritocracy. These type of people or that are always better than the
- Posted by Adam Bland
July 30, 2009 3:28 AM
this is a very nice article and very timely as I prepare to work on an essay as to why the former vikings and their
countries have managed to position themselves well in the Corruption Perception Index rankings and the general
happiness of populations there, as a possible lesson for the Anglo Saxon models which I think need a major repair.
I am always in favour of making laws when they make sense and they obviously did here. I also noted that IKEA
recently decided not to do business in Russia because of the pressure to engage in corruption, at the same time a
woman at the head of a major US corporate , Pepsi Co, decided to make a major entry into that market, while feigning
ignorance on the topic of corruption in Russia. Exceptions prove the rule I guess.
I also noted that the Norwegian Prime Minister, on visit to Malaysia, was asked why they are so highly ranked in anti
corruption and her response that this starts at primary school levels through teaching ethics and values.
Lastly, New Zealand has been doing well with a very competent and successful Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and is
also ranked amongst the highest in the CPI index and happiness index.
I think it is worthwhile in all this to read the books on Taoism about the need for balance between Yin and Yang. Any
efforts to address the imbalances will only assist in moving away from the current malaise which appears to have been
caused to a large extent by the absence of the voice of reason in Anglo Saxon and other board rooms.
A point to ponder, and I much appreciate your contribution,
- Posted by Ferdinand Balfoort
July 30, 2009 8:21 AM
This is an insightful commentary that will hopefully reignite discussion around the topic.
As long-time advocates of the bottom-line/economic benefits of boardroom and senior leadership diversity, Bridge
Partners LLC has sought to highlight diversity on boards of directors, through our Directorship Insights service.
There are not only already a large number of untapped women and minority executives who could add significant value
to today's for-profit and non-profit boards, but we should also be considering the boards of the future, counselling and
educating tomorrow's board directors so that they can learn from the experiences (and sometimes the mistakes) of
Tory Clarke - Partner, Bridge Partners LLC
- Posted by Tory Clarke - Partner, Bridge Partners LLC
July 30, 2009 11:13 AM
Wonderful series, thank you.
How Women Have Changed Norway's Boardrooms - HBR Now - Harvard Business R... Page 4 of 5
I enjoyed your earlier interview with Ansgar Gabrielsen, the former Minister of Trade in Norway who is responsible for
the law requiring gender equity on the boards there (http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/kate-sweetman/decoding-
I'd like to offer an additional thought for why women have been successful on boards.
Ansgar gave an example of how he helped gain support for his measure by inviting 6 men and 94 women into
Parliament (obstensibly the reverse of what existed at that time). He said the effect on the men was 'visual and
visceral'. That they 'got it'. Hmmm.
I wonder if they 'got' that, statistically, none of them would have been in that room if they'd been born a woman.
The 6 women in a room of 100 [Parliament or Board Members] are not 6 random women out of 100 that made it. They
are 6 out of 6 who made it. And who made it by overcoming a history of gender discrimination in politics and business.
Those 6 are not there fretting that they are in the minority. They are there demanding a voice.
You've got to figure that those 6 are going to have more courage than the average guy in the room, and courage is
what is required to take a stand and make a difference in life and in the boardroom.
So I wonder. To what extent is the benefit more women in the boardroom, and to what extent is the benefit more
courage in the boardroom.
- Posted by Todd Kurland
July 30, 2009 1:27 PM
Relevant analysis and begs the question of how these trends you have seen in Norway travel (or not) more broadly.
While every country's political, socio-economic infrastructure and ethical orientation would influence their decision
making and how they view board work, it is interesting to me the diversity within the US alone as to how boards
operate and how accountable they hold themselves to business performance. I do believe that self and group
accountability at the board level is an issue, as I've seen boards hold only the officers of the corporation accountable,
not the independent directors themselves. In my opinion, being an effective board member of a for-profit organization
certainly depends on the unique needs of that organization, but most often requires board diversity of thought,
perspective and behavior to make a sustainable impact. Good work, I will enjoy future perspectives on this.
Global Leadership and Development
- Posted by Diana Sullivan - Cambria Consulting
July 30, 2009 5:06 PM
Kate, as women are in greater numbers showing up in senior level positions and as board members, finally the impact
of women is being felt and becoming measurable. Plenty of other research exists to corroborate your finding that
women do in fact have an increasingly distinctive and identifiable presence and impact in senior leadership roles even
when you take into account leadership style differences and the favorable impact of more diverse groups on decision
making. Women demonstrate a pattern of being more relational, more inclusive and more focused on forging
consensus. Women tend to pay attention to different issues...many times the people issues based on women's focus
on nurturing and making sure others are taken care of.
In summary, I think there is support for your findings and I applaud you for bringing it forward!
- Posted by Deborah Early
August 3, 2009 10:22 PM
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