From quotas to mentorship initiatives: What companies are doing to get more women in the boardroom

There are plenty of things in Norway that might seem unusual, at first pass, to an American. The cheese is brown (a far cry from the white hue of a Wisconsin cheddar). They knight their penguins, too. And, most impressively, their workforce is noticeably diverse—by law, 40 percent of the board seats at Norwegian stock market-listed firms must go to women.

This last anomaly, while groundbreaking, is not without controversy. Back in 2004, Norway introduced a compulsory quota for stock market-listed firms: either 40 percent of their board seats had to go to women, or they would be excluded from the stock exchange—essentially guaranteeing liquidation. They were tough measures, but produced results. Compliance soon followed.

In the U.S., it’s hard to decide what would be regarded as stranger: a plate of brown cheese, the sight of a “king” penguin, or a boardroom with an almost equal gender split. Consider that last year, the Fortune 500 announced that it now has the highest-ever proportion of female CEOs: 6.4 percent.

Confronted with a figure so stark, it’s easy to appreciate why Norway took such drastic measures to achieve diversity and gender inclusion. And, though it initially caused plenty of uproar, Norway’s quota has proved to be a success. By 2010, the gender diversity target was achieved, and a study found there had been no complaints about a lack of suitable candidates.

In the U.S., the modest proportion of female CEOs isn’t caused by an absence of ambition; a 2016 Gallup poll found 45 percent of American women want CEO or senior management roles. It is not for lack of ability, either; a study by the Harvard Business Review reported that women leaders were consistently rated higher than their male counterparts when it came to outstanding leadership, with women outscoring men to the highest degree in “taking initiative” and “driving for results.” If the difficulty of getting women into senior roles has nothing to do with their ambition or talent, there must be something else wrong with the system.

In lieu of mandatory quotas, some companies are taking the issue into their own hands. A top professional services firm, for example, brings together an audience of high-potential women who have been personally selected by their respective CEOs. Identifying specific women within a company who have C-suite potential, and strategically helping them on their way, can be powerful.

A complaint about this approach, though—which can also be applied to quotas—is that it favors women who are already on their way to the top. In Round Rock, Texas, one major computer technology company has instead elected to target mid-level women, identifying potential women at an earlier career stage and offering them coaching and training to help map out a professional trajectory. And through its Women on the Move program, JPMorgan Chase gives its female employees more venues to express their ambitions and to chart their career paths. One solution they have is the 30-5-1 initiative, which encourages employees to spend: 30 minutes every week having coffee with a talented, up-and-coming female colleague, five minutes congratulating a female colleague on a success, and one minute talking up that colleague to co-workers.

“At JPMorgan Chase, we have a truly amazing group of female colleagues,” says Mary Callahan Erdoes, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase’s Asset & Wealth Management. But Erdoes acknowledges simply being amazing at your job is not enough: “It’s up to each one of us — men and women alike—to ensure these colleagues have the support mechanisms they need to succeed.”

Initiatives like 30-5-1 bring more attention to the achievements of women at all levels of the company—and just might help some of them get that all-important break to spur them along.

In the long run, if companies are to make real, broad-ranging change, they could learn a thing or two from Norway. Companies must treat the task in the same way they would any other business strategy: by focusing on measurable results. It is imperative companies analyze their efforts to ensure they’re working. That doesn’t necessarily mean quotas—but it does mean tracking deliverables and holding people accountable.

This content was adapted from a piece created by OZY and JPMorgan Chase and was originally published here.

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