A Nordic mystery In the world’s most female-friendly workplaces, executive suites are still male-dominated

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THE Nordic countries have done more than anywhere else to provide women with equal opportunities. Maternity leave is generous. State provision of child care is first-rate. Female university graduates outnumber males by six to four. Half of Finland’s cabinet ministers and 57% of Sweden’s are female. The latest Global Gender Gap Index, compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF), awards the first five places to the Vikings: Iceland comes top, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The region has also led the world in introducing quotas for corporate boards. Norway started the trend, and now requires stockmarket-listed companies to allot at least 40% of board seats to women. Iceland, Finland and some other European countries have introduced similar requirements.

But such rules cover only board seats, and only at listed firms. Visit a typical Nordic company headquarters and you will notice something striking among the standing desks and modernist furniture: the senior managers are still mostly men, and most of the women are PAs. The egalitarian flame that burns so brightly at the bottom of society splutters at the top of business. The WEF ranked Denmark 72nd in terms of the gender gap among senior managers and officials. There may be more women sitting round the table at board meetings, but the person who runs the show is almost always a man: only 6% of Norwegian listed firms had a female chief executive in 2013, little better than the 5% of American companies on the Fortune 500 list that have a woman as CEO.

 

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