Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Gender Research in Norway

Is a quota system one way to progress further?
(18.06.2007)

As mentioned, there is a father’s quota as part of parental leave, and back in the 1980s a gender quota system was introduced by the Norwegian Labor Party. This resulted in an implicit pressure on other political parties, the public sector, and later the private sector to pay serious attention to gender balance.

The Law of Equality of 1978 in its last revision in 2005 (par. 21), set up rules for gender balance when a public body appoints or elects commissions, committees, juries, advisory bodies, etc. From January 1, 2004 boards of all state owned companies are obliged to have a minimum of 40% representation of each gender, and a law from January 2006 specifies similar requirements for the boards of all companies registered on the stock exchange.

It is important to distinguish between the following: (a) Radical use of quotas imply a system where one gender is favored even if less qualified. This falls into the category of discrimination, and is normally neither desirable nor allowed. (b) Moderate use of quotas means that if several candidates have equal qualifications, the underrepresented gender can be favored. (c) Earmarking of positions means that a certain number of positions are reserved exclusively for one gender. When one Norwegian university earmarked positions for women, an EFTA Court decided in 2003 that “Norway failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 7 and 70 of the EEA Agreement". However, the decision also stated (sec. 57) that ..."the criteria for assessing qualifications of candidates are essential...[and] there appears to be scope for considering those factors, that, on empirical experience, tend to place female candidates in a disadvantaged position in comparison with male candidates...[hence] giving weight to the possibility that in numerous academic disciplines female life experience may be relevant to determination of the suitability and capability for, and performance in, higher academic positions...".

However, quota systems tend to be problematic and are highly debated. Even if “equally qualified", the underrepresented gender, and in particular women, will hear that “she got the job because of the quota system", hence, many or most women are against being subjected to a quota system. In academia and elsewhere, some women are overloaded with committee and board work, either because (1) those who appoint, try to “play safe" and do not draw on the full potential of candidates, (2) in certain disciplines or areas, there simply are too few women, or (3) the women themselves are too willing to accept offers. The careers of women as well as their personal lives may therefore suffer.

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