Firms, Boards and Gender Quotas: Comparative Perspectives: Volume 29


Table of contents

(15 chapters)
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The relationship between gender, family and employment is often depicted as the outcome of rational allocation between time in paid work and time spent on family-related tasks, such as household chores and care for children and other dependent persons (Becker, 1991). This balancing process may be framed in purely economic terms as a question of which spouse should be most active in the labour market when the goal is that of maximizing the total family income. It may also be conceived as deliberations over gender role norms (e.g. Petersen, 2002). If spouses have similar earning capacity, or if they accord relatively little importance to variation in pecuniary income, they may instead decide the employment pattern on the basis of norms of fairness or gender equality. In both cases the couple making the decision is portrayed as context-free actors maximizing a simple set of values: family income or gender equity.

Starting with a comparative assessment of different welfare regimes and political economies from the perspective of gender awareness and “pro-women” policies, this chapter identifies the determinants of cross-national variation in women's chances of being in a high-status occupation in 12 West European countries. Special emphasis is given to size and structure of the service sector, including share of women in public employment and structural factors such as trade union density and employment protection. The first level of comparison between men and women concentrates on gender representation in the higher echelons of the job hierarchy, while the second section extends the scope of analysis, comparing women in high-status occupations and low-wage employment in order to allow for a more nuanced study of gender and class interaction. The first analysis is based on European Social Survey data for the years 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008, capturing recent trends in occupational dynamics. Results indicate that in general a large service sector and a high trade union density enhance women's chances of being in high-status occupations, while more specifically a large public sector helps to reduce channeling women into low-wage employment. Thus, equality at the top can well be paired with inequality at the bottom, as postindustrial countries with a highly polarized occupational hierarchy such as the UK show.

The importance of family firms for the development of capitalism, both past and present, has in recent years become widely recognized. Today there is a fast increasing body of literature about forms of family business and variations in family capitalism. Despite this new interest, few of these studies have made the family itself the focus of enquiry – and how different types of family structures and cultural traditions may influence the strategies and development of the family firm. Such connections are explored by comparing and discussing two cases of family firms and their history, set in Norway and Italy, respectively. It is argued that these two cases may be seen as examples of quite different ‘modes of familism’, with different implications for the running of an economic enterprise. These differences concern, first and foremost, cultural conceptions of gender, forms of inheritance, and the role of marriage in constituting the family firm.

This study explores the manner in which gender inequality in the transition into self-employment is associated with the institutional contexts of family and labour market structures in the East Asian countries of Japan, Korea and Taiwan. This work contributes to theoretical debates on gender inequality and entrepreneurship because prior research on female self-employment has lacked a theoretical viewpoint on the mechanisms by which conditions for female entrepreneurship depend on the macro-structural arrangements of family and labour markets. By evaluating female employment in light of the patriarchal Confucian ideology, I examine gender disparities among individuals in terms of effects of paternal self-employment, their experiences as family workers and their marital status on their transition into self-employment. The results of this study show that women in Japan and Taiwan do not benefit from the self-employed status of their fathers as much as their male counterparts. Additionally, female family workers in the three countries had considerable disadvantages in becoming self-employed, which implies that female family workers continue to be exploited by self-employed owners, namely, their husbands. In contrast, the effects of marital status, with both sexes, on their transitions into self-employment differed widely among the three countries, reflecting the various barriers to self-employment and the differing conditions for female employment in each country. Overall, this study demonstrates that gender inequality in the transition into self-employment is related to family structures unique to these East Asian countries. This study, however, did not compare the dynamics of self-employment between East Asian societies and other industrialised nations. Future studies should explore whether the findings of this study are applicable to other industrialised societies.

The spread of corporate board quota legislation is studied in light of diffusion theory. Mechanisms of diffusion, path dependency and critical junctures can contribute to explaining the spread of policy reforms, such as the corporate board quota legislation. The empirical section describes the Norwegian reform process and maps out the ongoing European and global reform processes and debates. Seven countries, in addition to Norway, have in recent years initiated legal reforms and adopted corporate board quota rules: Spain, Iceland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Malaysia. However, the debates over the introduction of parallel legislation extend further, and are a burning issue in several other Western European countries, as well as globally. The discussion addresses why this policy spreads, and tries to understand the complexities of factors that have led to the diffusion of public debate and legal reform of corporate board quota.

Why did Sweden and Norway arrive at different conclusions with regards to the introduction of corporate gender quotas? The chapter points to two decisive and interwoven explanations.

First, there is a question of varieties of capitalism – even within the Scandinavian model: The strong and traditionally socially responsible Swedish business life enjoyed more autonomy than their Norwegian counterpart, making it harder for the Swedish state to interfere in business life. In Norway, on the other hand, the state was a dominant capitalist itself whereas private owners in general were small and dispersed. Consequently, the capacity of the state to interfere in business life was larger, compared to Sweden.

Second, there is a matter of different cultures concerning gender equality and the attitudes towards state intervention: In Norway, an established gender quota tradition and rather positive attitudes towards state intervention created a moderate discursive climate in gender equality matters. A discursive tradition accepting women as a group as different from men as a group gave politicians a larger scope of action concerning gender equality measures directed at women only. In Sweden, the discursive climate was more hostile towards state intervention, and there was a less strong tradition for legally imposing gender quotas. In addition, Swedish feminists were active and conflict-oriented, thereby creating a polarized gender equality discussion in a public life traditionally oriented towards consensus-based solutions to political discrepancies.

Lack of women in boardrooms and management has been a common feature of corporate and agricultural sectors in Norway. In both sectors, quota reforms have been implemented in order to change this situation. This chapter analyses the reasons given for applying gender quotas. While public limited companies were enforced by law to elect a minimum 40 per cent women or men to their boards in 2008, the board of the Federation of Norwegian Agricultural Co-operatives (FNAC) voluntarily decided that a minimum of 40 per cent women or men should be represented in their boards by 2009. How could it be that the agricultural cooperatives introduced this voluntarily, while the business corporations were to be forced by legislation? Public documents, governmental papers, media texts and interview data are analysed to identify and compare the reasoning for gender board quotas. The comparison sheds light on our understanding of the boardroom quota as more complex than simply to deal with gender equality. Traditional gender equality arguments did play a role, but in different ways, articulations and emphasis. More pragmatic reasoning played a role. In FNAC, we saw that the process of organisation-building and modernisation played an important role in the decision to voluntarily introduce gender quotas on boards. Within the corporate sector there were no advocates for introducing gender quotas before profitability arguments came to the fore, but even though such arguments were acceptable to the corporate sector, they did not have the same effect in terms of getting volunteer support for gender quotas.

In this chapter, we have analysed the relationship between the proportion of women on board of directors and firm performance in Norway and Denmark. These countries are, in an international context, considered similar in many respects. However, during 2002–2007, the two countries experienced quite different developments regarding the gender diversity on companies' boards, caused by the Norwegian board reform affecting public limited firms. These changes increase the relevancy for analysing and comparing the relationship between gender diversity and firm performance in the two countries. The results for Denmark reveal no significant relationships between the proportion of women on boards and firm performance. As there was no quota policy in place in Denmark in this period, the proportion of women on boards has been quite constant. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that we observe no significant relationships. The results for Norway reveal first a positive relationship between the proportion of women on boards of directors and firm performance. This relationship does hold after controlling for a wide set of firm characteristics. Can this be explained by the quota? No, our robustness analyses suggest not. The results indicate that the short-term relationship between gender diversity and firm performance is negligible. Neither for public limited firms nor for limited firms, can firm performance during this period really be attributed to women on boards. Thus, from a gender equalisation point of view, it appears that one has achieved increased gender diversity on Norwegian boards, without affecting firm performance.

The recent reform in Norway on the gender composition of boards of directors in public firms, requiring boards to have at least 40 per cent of each gender, inevitably raises general questions concerning state regulation of property rights. What are the normative limits to state intervention? And more practically: how far could and should such interventions go? The question may be approached from several angles. The line followed here is to look into recent history in two Scandinavian countries – the most state-friendly of all existing democracies – to explore the differences between political interventions which have gained a high degree of legitimacy and those that failed or were never put into practice. In the discussion, both economic efficiency and normative concerns are evoked. Successful reforms introducing employee representatives into health and security committees, as well as to the boards of enterprises, are contrasted to the failed cases of quasi-nationalization of commercial banks in Norway and the wage-earner funds in Sweden. These results throw light on possible democratic justification and political viability of the gender quota reform.

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Comparative Social Research
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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