The Glass Breakers
The drive to ensure that women have the access to opportunity as men has produced some success over the past one hundred years. From the suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the bra – burning feminists of the sixties, the story of women’s rights commands our attention.
And indeed women have won most of those battles. Whether it is the right to vote, to equal pay, or simply to control their own fertility, women in many cases have at least achieved the status of being what they are: human beings.
However one of the battles still not won is the breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’ one. Despite all these freedoms, the vast majority of women do not get into positions of power or places where they can profoundly influence decisions that affect all our lives.
One country in Europe has decided that its time to do something about this. Writing in the excellent business section of the Irish Times, January 2006 Glwladys Fouche and Jill Treanor report that Norway has set a deadline of two years to enable at least forty per cent of seats on the boards of companies to be filled by women. The bad news is that the deadline comes into effect at the start of 2006.
Failure to comply could mean the closure of these companies, that is if Norway’s equality Minister Karita Bekkemellem has her way.
Although women in Norway are doing better than many of their European counterparts, their progress in the business world is unacceptably slow, with only sixteen percent of them occupying senior positions.
The driving force behind this is the nine women cabinet ministers in an executive of nineteen. According to many of them waiting another thirty or forty years for men to appoint women to these positions is simply not on. As of now the women of Norway are easily the best educated, and should have that reflected in the decision making arenas.
Business interests are opposed to the severity of sanctions, and are questioning quite legitimately the sense in closing down companies thereby losing large numbers of jobs.
Comparisons with the situation in Britain where the effects of the glass ceiling are even more pronounced. Its equal opportunities commission in a recent report titled ’Sex and Power found that women only make up some eleven per cent of directors in the FTSE 100 companies. Unfortunately with perhaps the exception of banking companies in Britain are continuing to maintain a ‘pure male‘ factor' as highlighted by the City grand Dee, Sir Derek Higgs.
No doubt Norway who like Ireland introduced a strict no smoking ban on work premises will see themselves in the vanguard of more pioneering liberal legislation. Equally there is no doubt that the large conservative constituency represented by the business sector will oppose such ‘pinko leftie’ legislation, with all its considerable might. But then it opposed the suffragettes too.
As for the new breed of women glass breakers, it probably remains for them to cook the evening supper following a busy day hovering above the glass ceiling.