Golden skirts fill the board rooms

October 31, 2012 - 06:10

Women who accumulate directorships in bulk are known as the golden skirts.

Forty percent of board members are women in Norwegian public companies. (Photo: Colourbox)

The act stipulating a minimum of 40 percent representation of both sexes on the boards of public companies (plcs), has resulted in comprehensive change in Norwegian board rooms.

A new term has been coined to describe the women who accumulate directorships in bulk; they are known as the golden skirts.  The men with the largest number of directorships in today’s large public companies, on the other hand, are mostly investors and are often called the golden sacks.

Professor Morten Huse at BI Norwegian Business School has analysed the composition of the boards of public limited companies in the years 2007 to 2010.

In particular, Huse wanted to investigate women’s roles in the board rooms, and how they have contributed to company profits.

Women dealing wholesale in directorships

There are still more men than women on most boards; about 60 percent of directors are men. But there are more women who accumulate large numbers of directorships, and, so to speak, deal wholesale in board appointments.

Huse has added up the number of directorships for the years 2007 - 2010 for all persons who have held a board appointment for at least one of these years.

The study shows that a total of eight women had more than 16 directorships in the period that was studied.

In other words, they had, on average, at least four directorships every year on the boards of public companies. Interestingly, only two men had 16 or more board appointments in the same period.

Of all the people who had 13 or more directorships over the four-year period, i.e. more than three appointments per year on average, there are 21 women and nine men. The number of women who appear to deal in directorships wholesale is therefore more than twice that of men.

Women with minds of their own

Before the affirmative action law setting quotas for both sexes helped stir up things, almost all the people accumulating directorships in bulk were men. They were known to form a Norwegian old boy’s network. Most of these men usually had connections with the company’s owners, its managers, or to each other.

Morten Huse (Photo: BI)

The study shows that the women on today’s boards are less likely to be connected to the companies’ owners and management.

Typically, they play the role of professional and independent board members.  Given the fact that guidelines for boards of directors stipulate that the majority of the principal board committees should be independent, this is a distinct advantage.

Golden skirts come in four types

Morten Huse has studied the 20 women who had the greatest number of board appointments 2007-2010 in greater detail.

The professor divides the Norwegian golden skirts into four groups, based on their experience as decision-makers; how much experience they have; whether they are pragmatic, and whether they are most influenced by the facts at hand and principles.

According to Huse, the different types of golden skirts are recruited in different ways, and all make distinct contributions to the boards’ work.

  1. The analysts: Limited experience as decision-makers. Influenced by principles and the facts at hand. They have all the facts at their finger tips, and often have mentors. Their strength is acting as the board’s expert advisor. Many of these women are about 40 years old.
  2. The supervisors: Don’t usually have a lot of experience as decision-makers. They are pragmatic in their approach to business. They have made use of the openings provided by the new law on quotas for Norwegian boards. They tend to emphasise the importance of following corporate governance guidelines and are often 50 years old or older.

  3. The decision-makers: Many of these women have been leading politicians, and have a lot of experience in decision-making. They are used to holding their own in discussions. Most of them focus on facts and principles. Their trademark is being the driving force for a particular matter. Many of these women are 50 or older.
  4. The wealth creators: Plenty of experience as decision-makers. Pragmatic and business-oriented. Many were board members before introduction of the law on board quotas. They help enhance the company’s potential and often back the management. Many of these women are 55 or older.

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    Reference: Morten Huse (2011): The “Golden Skirts:” Changes in board composition following gender quotas on corporate boards. Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Academy Meeting in Wellington.

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