Proposal for gender quotas for boards of listed companies gets cool reception
Concerns that "quota women" could underclass among directors
A proposal by Tuula Haatainen (SDP), Finland's Minister of Social Affairs and Health, who also serves as Finland's Minister of Equality, on setting legal gender quotas for boards of directors of companies listed on the stock exchange, has received a cool reception from various interest groups.
In most reactions to the proposal, the idea of a legally-mandated quota for women is an antiquated notion, which would threaten the quality of corporate boards.
There are concerns that "quota women" could lead to a two-tier system on boards of directros, in which experts would comprise an upper class, ranking above those assigned to the body on the basis of their gender.
Haatainen made her proposal in a piece she wrote for the Sunday Debate page of Helsingin Sanomat, in which she called for a new kind of thinking in appointments for listed companies.
Haatainen said that this Norwegian model could also work in Finland.
Norway has set a minimum quota for women on boards of directors of Finnish companies. Haatainen has no immediate plans to introduce a bill on the matter, but she says that she will pay a visit to Norway sometime this spring "to look at the matter on the spot".
Haatainen's colleague, Trade and Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen (Centre) rejects the idea of legally-mandated gender quotas. He notes that women already have a 40 percent share of seats on boards of directors of state-owned companies.
Pekkarinen sees gender quotas as bad for business, and for women. "Women on boards of directors should genuinely feel that they are not just quota women, and that they are there on the basis of their skills and competence."
The Confederation of Finnish Industry (EK) feels that listed companies do not need women quotas.
"It is the owner's business to choose the members of the Board of Directors. The basis of the choice is competence and the confidence of the owners, regardless of gender", says Eeva-Liisa Inkeroinen, deputy head of EK's labour market sector.
The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) does not rule out legal quotas, but has more confidence in the power of voluntary guidelines. "If the proportion of women on boards of directors of listed companies increases without a law, it is good. Quotas as such are not an end in themselves, but the Norwegians apparently grew tired of how slowly things changed, and decided to impose temporary quotas", says Marja Erkkilä of SAK.
She believes that the male dominance of corporate boards of directors is a tradition, as there is no shortage of competent women. "Academic women are a larger group than academic men."
Pauli K. Mattila, Deputy Managing Director of the Central Chamber of Commerce is opposed to quotas in general. "There are companies with Finnish owners and foreign owners. Surely, foreign owners should be given a certain slice. The interests of the company are the most important thing", he says.
Mattila is confident that there are plenty of competent women in Finland, and that it would benefit a company to have both genders on the board of directors. However, he echoes the view that a quota system could lead to an "underclass" of quota women.