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Women at the top

Women at the top

Jonathan Power of Arab News says he’s seen the future, and it’s Norwegian. Here’s how he hopes women will inherit the earth.

November 1, 2010 2:16 by

The big push now is get women into more managerial positions. Companies have long resisted this, arguing that this will put an unnecessary burden on the company and reduce its competitiveness in overseas markets. They have to make costly concessions to women — their need to be absent when the children are ill or for months after a new child is born. (Also women are allowed to leave work an hour early if they are breast-feeding.) But, say proponents of sexual equality, in practice Norway has not lost its cutting edge on the export front. It has been forced to work hard to compensate for more generous social policies by increasing its productivity.

The progress in advancing women in business still has a long way to go, but the percentage is climbing. According to Futura, which runs one-year courses for would-be top women managers, in 2004 women held 36 percent of all management jobs. Today it is 42 percent.
Women appear to be less bound by traditional male conventions, whether it is doing business (and wasting a lot of time) on the golf course or being embarrassed in a meeting that they do not know something. Women demand answers to more questions. Grace Reksten, a prominent director, (now the boss of a big company), is held up as an example. Persistent questioning of her men colleagues when she refused to accept the answers about a corruption probe led to the resignation of the chief executive and chairman of the powerful state oil company, Statoil. Women too see the human side of a problem. “When someone has to be fired men tend to be insensitive but women have another way of doing it”, she argues.

In the home, things are changing rapidly. Most of the older generation would never consider fathers staying home with their young infants. Now it is almost universal. The leave given to young parents is a year. Fathers and mothers can divide that time up as they want. But if fathers refuse to look after the infants for at least 10 weeks, the family will lose the refunding of his salary. I found it rather odd visiting a family where the man stayed at home, kissing his wife goodbye as she went off to work and then, after he had made me a cup of tea, seeing him playing in the sitting room with his baby, accompanied by two male friends doing the same with their babies.

But then I might as well have been on another planet. I have never been to a country quite like Norway. I’m glad I did. I have seen the future and know it works.

- Arab News

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