...while in Norway, quotas have men running scared

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Women in Norway may soon find themselves catapulted into senior executive jobs in companies, if it goes ahead with plans for a quota of female boardroom appointments.

Norway has one of the highest proportion of female directors in the EU, with about 16 per cent of boardroom roles held by women. But it is planning to legislate next year for women to fill 40 per cent of such jobs. The business community has been outraged at the idea.

Norway and other Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and the US are studying practices in the UK to see if it is possible to increase the number of women in the boardroom without changing the law.

At the bottom of the EU league table on numbers of female directors are Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Luxembourg and Italy, with no more than 3 per cent. Lessons may be learnt, however, from new EU members - Slovenia is top, with more than 20 per cent of such jobs held by women. Slovenia, Romania, Latvia and Estonia have higher numbers of women executives than any other country in the EU apart from Norway.

The UK comes sixth in the EU. The Government has steered clear of legislation, hoping that pressure from academics, lobby groups and companies will encourage a change. Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said yesterday: "It is not about putting women on boards for the sake of it. We want companies to promote the best people for the job."

Twenty chief executives and chairmen have agreed to mentor female high-flyers from other companies to prepare them for future positions.