In the past, when I taught a course on woman and leadership, I would allude to Scandinavia as a model of what the U. S. might replicate. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland all have in places policies intended to close the gender gap, including at the top. Norway is perhaps the best known example. Several years ago it implemented a quota system that requires the boards of publicly held companies to be at least 40 % women. In addition it, like the other Scandinavian countries, provides generous daycare benefits, and also parental leave laws designed to encourage mother and father to share child care. No wonder it has been looked to as an exemplar, including by the European Union which has considered recommending its replication.
There’s just one teeny-weeny problem. As Christina Zander reported in the May 22 Wall Street Journal, policies that on paper were exemplary have failed. Put precisely, while they did succeed in getting more women close to the top, they did not succeed in getting more women to the top. Consider once again the case of Norway. In 2013, as mandated, women composed 41 % of boards at Norway’s publicly held companies, compared with only 18% at privately held companies. However… only 5.8 % of CEOs of public companies were women, while at private companies the number was actually significantly greater, 15.1%. In Finland the situation is roughly the same. It has more women on company boards than any other country in the European Union. Yet not a single one of Finland’s 27 largest companies has a woman at the helm.
These findings raise the obvious question – why? Why, in spite of policies that can only be described as extremely enlightened, are there still so few women CEOs in Scandinavia? Several theories have been put forth, nearly all of them contextual. That is, there continues to be a blame game, the fault being ascribed to insufficiently supportive cultures and insufficiently enlightened policies, both governmental and organizational.
What continues, however, to be inadequately addressed is the question of gender difference. However politically incorrect the implication, it is at least possible that women calculate differently than do men, that their needs, wants, and wishes are, on the whole, on average, slightly different from those of their male counterparts. Women may not choose to lead because in the end they don’t want to lead or, at least, they don’t want to lead given that leadership in the 21st century usually is all-consuming. Many if not most tasks are amenable to flex time, part time, shared time, family time, time working from home and not in the office, not to speak of time on the road. It just so happens that leadership is not one of them.