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Female Quotas on European Boards?

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Setting quotas for female candidates on Board appointments is a hot topic in the news in Finland as well as in the rest of Europe. Newspapers report regularly the number of female Board members in each listed company – shame on those who have none.

The labor market in Finland is sexually very segregated both horizontally and vertically. As can be seen from table 1, the share of female leaders on Boards is still increasing, slowly but surely.

Year

Female, %

1980

13

1992

25

2009

30

Table 1. Share of female leaders in private sector and civil servants in Finland / Professor Kaisa Kauppinen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, 2009 /

According to Professor Kauppinen, the public sector in Finland seems to be more progressive in female appointments: 42 % of all the leading positions in the state offices are occupied by women, whereas in the private sector, female leaders have only 26 % of the top positions. In the Finnish Government the proportional share of female and male ministers has for years been fifty-fifty; at the moment such positions as Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice are held by women. To prove the point, Finland has a female President and our former Prime Minister was a woman.

In business, women tend to have leading positions in Human Resources, Finance and, Marketing and Communications, whereas men have leading positions in the business itself. "Women take care, men take charge". It is not difficult to forecast which road leads to CEO’s position, or to a future Board appointment.

Stereotyping of sexes tends to emphasize the differences between men and women, and minimizes the individual differences within each gender, further compounding the gendering of executive positions.

How about the Boards in Finland? According to Professor Kauppinen’s research in 2009 there were 683 male and only 112 female members of the Boards in Finnish listed companies.

According to the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK, Finnish women have a higher education level than women in Europe on average. In Finland 47 % of all working women aged 25-64 have a university degree whereas in Europe the average is 30 %. However, only 35 % of employed men in Finland have a university degree.

The segregation is evident already at the universities: men tend to focus on technical education whereas women concentrate on human and social issues, and finance. Less than 10% of female students study mechanical engineering, electrical or energy technology. However, women have diversified their choices of education more than men. Since men stick strongly to the traditional "male sectors" the lessening of segregation is taking time. This all has an impact on the discussion of the need of quotas.

What should be done in order to avoid quotas? Women in supporting positions such as finance and HR should have better chances to broaden their leadership experience into operative business. If women really are considered an asset in Boards, decision makers need to be more courageous with women and avoid 'pigeonholing' them. Furthermore, young women aiming at top positions should consider technical education more often.

Jaana Toppari
Senior Partner, Amrop Finland
Jaana Toppari has been working in Executive Search since 1998. Before joining Amrop Finland she was running her own Executive Search business over six years and before that was working for a leading Finnish human resource consultancy company for six years as a Senior Consultant. Jaana has clients in various business sectors, e.g. in manufacturing and building industries, logistics, wholesale, FMCG and in real estate investing. She has especially good experience in the search of financial and legal professionals. Due to her earlier ten years’ working experience in the financial sector and several years’ of experience in publishing Jaana has a profound understanding of both sectors.

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