Norway's top companies face being shut over the next two years unless they appoint many more women to their boards, the country's government has warned.
The shot across the bows of the more than 500 firms listed on Norway's stock exchange is a radical attempt to try and help more women reach board-level positions.
Norwegian companies have two years to ensure women hold 40 per cent of the seats of each company listed on the Oslo bourse.
New companies listing on the exchange will have to comply straight away and, according to The Guardian newspaper, the government is considering extending the law to family-owned companies.
The government has conceded that since December 2003, when new rules were set out designed to encourage more firms to reach the 40 per cent mark, just 68 of the 519 companies listed had implemented the rules.
State-owned companies are already obliged to comply with the rule and must now have 45 per cent female representation on their boards.
About half of the companies on the stock market are estimated to have no women on their boards.
Norwegian equality minister Karita Bekkemellem told The Guardian: "From January 1, 2006, I want to put in place a system of sanctions that will allow the closure of firms.
"I do not want to wait another 20 or 30 years for men with enough intelligence to finally appoint women.
"More than half of the people who have a business education today are women. It is wrong for companies not to use them. They should be represented," she added.
Last week Britain's Equal Opportunities Commission warned that it could take as long as 200 years for men and women to achieve parity in Parliament and 40 years to be equal when it came to directorships of FTSE-100 companies.