While Australia has a long way to go in terms of even understanding how gender equity can look in our workplaces and homes, our maverick “just do it” culture means we could quickly catch up to Europe if we chose to take a bigger-picture view.

As the only Australian at Norway’s The Boardroom Impact Conference it was interesting to hear the discussions about the impact of Norway’s 40% under represented gender Quota Law and to compare attitudes and approaches towards achieving gender diversity in management, executive and board roles.

The key is in embracing true equity and diversity as real opportunities for Australian businesses and institutions, not just as the politically correct thing to do. Given the masculine culture, which tends to exert an undue influence on many of our workplaces, we will need to change the way we think about these issues.

For example, Norway has a Department for Children, Equality and Gender (not women) and its minister is a man. The Minister of Defence is a woman. Small things, but critical in terms of the perception they create across society. The message is clear — gender is not about women. There are two genders and sometimes trans-genders so the issue is about equity and fairness for all.

A major area of cultural reform in Norway is in the thinking around its best practice parental leave program. In 2009 the male component of the fully paid government scheme was extended to 10 weeks, and a proposal is before the cabinet to expand the scheme. This will result in 47 weeks fully paid or 57 weeks at 80% with 12 weeks for fathers. The father’s entitlement cannot be used by the mother and is lost if not taken.

Placing an emphasis on the father’s 12-week entitlement is a way of ensuring employers’ expectations concerning leave and absence can be more equally shared across male and female employees. In other words, both s-xes are seen as an equal “risk” due to family commitments. This is viewed as crucial to addressing the problem of women not returning to work after maternity leave and being penalised for taking a career break.

The visual impact of this policy is surprising. I noticed many young professional fathers pushing prams (not strollers) around Oslo’s parks and streets. Often talking on mobile phones and with laptops or having coffee with each other — clearly a dad is the new trendy thing to be in Oslo.

In Norway, having children and working are regarded as the two major contributions an individual makes to the economy and well being of society as a whole — so it is in everyone’s interests to make them mutually inclusive, rather than mutually exclusive. This thinking has driven its social reform programs over the past 30-40 years.

Harald Norvik, the chairman of Telenor and Aschehoug and a director ConocoPhillips and Petroleum Geo-Services, believes that companies are going to have to reframe their thinking around the time that people and women in particular take out of workplace.

The 63-year-old former government adviser and CEO of Statoil, the world’s biggest offshore oil and gas company and 36th largest company, said parenthood should be regarded as an investment in developing leadership capabilities as having children is great training in the key principles of participative leadership — listening, motivating and inspiring others.

Many Norwegian social programs are underpinned by revenues and taxes from oil and gas resources, which go into the $US500 billion government pension fund of Norway – one of the world’s largest investment funds. Regarded as superannuation for the country, the government takes a maximum of 4% per of the fund’s return on investment each year.

Perhaps there are some useful parallels to be drawn for another country rich in natural resources?

*Women on Boards is a social enterprise to improve the gender balance on Australian company boards. Women on Boards brokers women into board roles, offers professional development and mentoring programs, hosts excellent events and ensures a high level of dynamic interaction across its large and influential network.