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The latecomer in gender equality is waking up

| Text: Marie Preisler

Gender equality in Denmark has been falling behind the rest of the Nordic countries, both when it comes to female boardroom representation and paternity leave, but now things are moving forward.

Denmark has been the latecomer in the Nordic region when it comes to gender equality. But this has been changing lately both for men and women: Public sector workers will now be offered one more week of paid parental leave, and the Danish model for getting more women into boardrooms seems to be working.

Longer paternity leave

Danish fathers still get considerably shorter pregnancy and paternity leave than fathers elsewhere in the Nordic region, but the differences are getting smaller. A new agreement secures public sector workers a pay increase as well as the right to one extra week of parental leave on full pay, without shortening the mothers’ pregnancy leave. 

The extra week is awarded to men working in the state, in regions and municipalities. Male state employees will go from six to seven weeks’ paid parental leave, while men working for a municipality and in the regionally run hospital sector will see an increase from 12 to 13 weeks paid paternity leave. 

New parents in Denmark enjoy very different parental benefits depending on what agreements they are covered by — some private employees only get 5.5 weeks, while some men in the public sector now can get up to 13 weeks of fully paid parental leave. The one extra week of parental leave for public sector workers is therefore a very important victory for gender equality, says the Danish Institute for Human Rights, which has been established by the Danish parliament in order to promote gender equality in Denmark. The institute hopes more paternal leave will benefit women’s career opportunities, reduce the pay gap and put fathers in a better position in case of a divorce when child custody must be decided.

More women in boardrooms

There are also small but important steps towards more gender equality in Danish boardrooms. Denmark is against quotas for female representation in company leadership teams and on boards, and the country has chosen a voluntary system instead. This now looks to have increased female representation, if only to a smaller degree. 

In 2012 the government introduced a so-called Danish model in which the 1,200 largest private companies and all state institutions must define goals for how many women they should have on their boards and develop policies for how they generally can get more women into leadership positions.

The first review of the Danish model’s effect shows the number of women boardroom members i Denmark’s largest companies rose from eight to 11 percent in the first year after the law was introduced, and that half of the state institutions and companies already now have achieved gender balance on their boards.  

The review also shows that both private and state institutions which do not already have real gender equality, are working on ways to increase the number of women. In public companies the aim is to get an average of 40 percent women into top positions. Private companies aims to have a woman in one in four top positions. 

The Minister for Equality, Manu Sareen (the Danish Social Liberal Party) says he is happy with the development:

“The results from state institutions and companies tell me we have chosen the right model. If both public and private companies reach their goals, we will see a considerable increase in the number of women on boards in three to four years time, and hopefully also in leadership positions generally. This is good for gender equality and for society as a whole,” says the Minister for Equality, Manu Sareen.

He considers the results to be a success for the Danish model:

“It’s fantastic that we now can see the results of the Danish model. The model is unique in Europe, because on the one side it obliges companies to sign up to measurable goals and policies, while at the same time it gives leaders room to play by not introducing quotas,” says Manu Sareen. 


The Danish model for more women on boards 

No quotas but demands for all state institutions and companies and the 1,200 largest private companies to identify goals for how they can increase the number of boardroom members from the under-represented gender.

Each company must have a concrete goal for identifying by how much it wants to increase the number of women on the board, but is free to decide how ambitious that goal should be. There are no sanctions if the companies fail to reach their goals.

Results after one year:

Just under half of all public companies and institutions have an equal gender representation on their boards. 

The number of women in private companies has risen from eight to 11 percent. Public companies aim for boards to be made up of 40 percent women. Private companies aim for 25 percent women. One in four private companies have so far not identified any goals.


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