Women are gradually nudging their way into male-dominated boardrooms, as Ivey's latest EMBA intake indicates THE NORWEGIAN government made history last year when it implemented a law obliging companies to appoint women to at least 40 per cent of their directorships by the middle of this year. Those failing to comply will face penalties. The law is an attempt to increase the variety of the workforce by having more women in management positions and on boards of directors. It has been met with criticism and praise. Whether the law successfully smashes the so-called 'glass ceiling' is yet to be seen, but it is an indication of the progress women in the workplace are making, in Norway at least. A small group of women in Hong Kong are also making history. For the first time, 48 per cent of the Richard Ivey School of Business, Asia, EMBA class of 2005 will be women. As well as the highest ratio the Hong Kong school has seen, it is also the highest percentage Ivey has had in any programme in the world. More than 50 per cent of the female students work in careers considered non-traditional positions for women, including technology, construction, finance and manufacturing, with the rest coming from sectors including banking, accounting, telecommunications, consumer products and cosmetics. Kathleen Slaughter, executive director and associate dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business, is mystified by why the percentage is so high but hopes it will be repeated in the future. 'We do not actively recruit any race, gender or industry,' she said. 'I was surprised when we assembled the list to find that women were represented in such an encouraging way. Such a large percentage of women, representing so many industries, presents an excellent role model for other women wishing to pursue leadership positions in all organisations.' The status of women has significantly improved over the past 20 years. More women have higher education than before and access to information and communication technology. Many also have better control of their lives and can pursue careers of their choice. But women are still in the minority in Hong Kong boardrooms. Figures from the Census and Statistics Department show that in 2003 only 9.7 per cent of female workers were managers, administrators and professionals, compared to 18.6 per cent of male workers in the same category. Female workers tend to dominate the soft-skills areas of organisations (training and development, human resources) where their functions involve great responsibility for the people in organisations. 'Women generally are most confident with the people side of business. Their background and training after the secondary school level are aimed more towards sociology, psychology and the arts,' Professor Slaughter said. The Equal Opportunities Commission says discrimination arising from deep-rooted gender-biased values and cultures still presents a problem for women in employment. 'Social prejudice limits women's job potential from the beginning of their careers, by giving them insufficient opportunities to acquire experience viewed as critical to senior leadership qualification,' a spokeswoman said. While women are becoming more active in traditionally male-dominated industries, Professor Slaughter believes limited direct involvement with companies' profits and losses restricts their promotional opportunities. 'It is very difficult to reach the top of the organisation if you have never had responsibility for profit and loss,' Professor Slaughter said. 'At the end of the day, the company must produce results and the leadership of the organisation must be able to discuss those results with a variety of stakeholders, including financial analysts. The key to a successful career, including the route to a seat in the boardroom, is to learn continuously and to stretch yourself to take on new challenges'.