Exploring the Norwegian paradox of vertical sex segregation: Strategies and experiences in politics, academia and company boards

My PhD thesis addresses the role of gender, leadership and the use of affirmative action (AA) strategies in relation to vertical sex segregation in the Norwegian labour market. Specifically, to see how institutional laws and norms affect gender balance and diversity within organizations, I examine politicians, academics, and directors of corporate boards as specific occupational groups that are vulnerable to sex segregation effects. My thesis is entitled: 'Exploring the Norwegian paradox of vertical sex segregation: Strategies and experiences in politics, academia and company boards'.


Using a multilevel approach to explore gendering practices, the thesis shed light on the processes underpinning and affecting vertical segregation and the strategies used to counteract it. As a result, the thesis aims to show how institutional norms and national laws affect the gender balance within organizations as well as to identify the usefulness of various strategies by using a mix of qualitative and quantitative data.

On all international measures of gender equality Scandinavian countries emerge as more equal with Norway as the most equal of countries. Yet, despite an apparent equality, vertical segregation is resilient in Scandinavian countries. The use of affirmative action (AA) has been offered as a potential way to challenge inequality and occupational sex segregation, yet, as illustrated by Acker (2006b) these strategies often fail. Few studies have investigated women's experience of gender segregation in Norway, moreover, we know little of the experience of women in occupations influenced by AA strategies. This thesis aims to contribute to understanding the experience of women in the most equal of countries and it draws on Acker's (2006b) inequality regimes as an analytical framework. This thesis takes a multilevel approach to explore gendering practices within Norway in three occupational groups; politics, academia and corporate boards of directors to understand the processes underpinning vertical segregation. The rationale for focusing on these three occupational groups lies in the nature of the groups and their use of AA, as well as the different representation of women. The thesis builds on a variety of methods of both a qualitative and quantitative nature and will demonstrate the nature of the interrelationship of structural factors and individual agency in understanding the Norwegian paradox. In particular, 66 in-depth interviews with women employed in senior positions within the three occupational groups form the key method. In addition, the thesis draws on secondary quantitative data to situate women in the three occupational groups and in Norway.

Findings reveal that the idea of Norway's equality is still more of an aspiration than reality as gender inequality regimes are present in politics, academia, and boards of directors, but they take different forms. The thesis finds that Norwegian organisations are not gender neutral; instead they provide a set of institutional conditions that encourage forms of vertical segregation. In particular, the thesis identifies the importance of political strategies, both related to AA as well as welfare for improving equality. Nevertheless, the thesis also acknowledges the complexity of these strategies and the importance of designing country and occupational group specific strategies in order to progress. The thesis uncovers the resilience of gendered social processes in women's exclusion but also highlights the fewer and more constrained conditions under which woman may also have an advantage. Hence, this thesis contributes to the literature on occupational sex segregation and AA.