Career women should plan early

It's a difficult balancing act to combine career and family. imagepoint

Women should plan their careers at the top very early on in life, consultant and bestselling author Dr Monique R. Siegel tells swissinfo on International Women's Day.

This content was published on March 8, 2006 - 12:16

Siegel says attitudes are changing in Switzerland – with more women in managerial positions – but adds that getting women to climb the professional ladder needs to be taken far more seriously.

Among the newer faces leading Swiss firms are Inge Beale at reinsurer Converium, Jasmin Staiblin at ABB Switzerland and Miriam Meyer Stutz at RUAG Aerospace.

But Siegel argues that there still needs to be a change in mentality among women, who don't seem to take career planning seriously, as well as inside companies.

swissinfo: Has there been much change in the way women in top jobs in Switzerland are perceived?

Monique R. Siegel: Yes, I believe there has been. You see a lot more women in top jobs... which, ten years ago, would not have been the case. But, and this is a big but, there hasn't been enough of a change in mentality.

swissinfo: What do you mean?

M.R.S.: I'm always annoyed at the question: Why aren't there more women in leading positions? The time to address this problem is not when they are 35; the time to do so is when they are five.

Kindergarten and primary school are when girls should be given the idea that one day they might be CEO of one of the big companies. Not enough has been done as far as mentoring young girls is concerned...

A second reason is that women do not have sufficient career planning. They often shy away from this.

swissinfo: Are women in Switzerland any better or worse off than women in other industrialised countries?

M.S.: In some respects they are [better off]. Switzerland has never been as hysterical about this issue as some other countries... Women in Switzerland will make it but at a slow pace.

There has been improvement but not enough. That involves companies as well as the political framework. There aren't enough day schools or child-care centres and women today admit that they were not aware of how difficult it is to have two children or even one child and be a top executive at the same time.

swissinfo: It seems very difficult for a woman to make a career and look after a family. Does this hold true in Switzerland?

M.R.S.: It does and it's something that I've been battling with for 30 years. This is an area where companies have a tremendous lack of understanding and empathy. I think they are rather stupid in that respect because a woman who feels secure in knowing that her child is being taken care of is a much better worker.

swissinfo: As a consultant to companies, what is your advice when they ask you about women in management?

M.R.S.: Create a kindergarten programme to make young girls think of your company as a desirable employer. That's a long-term commitment.

The short-term commitment is empathy on the issue of child-care facilities, of enough time off and getting away from this counter-productive notion of part-time working. It's absolutely derogatory, because no man advances to the top by working part-time.

swissinfo: What would you say to a woman who wants a career but is afraid to do so because she wants to start a family?

M.R.S.: I would tell her to talk to her fiancé and lay down the law. If a woman wants to work outside the family, she has to settle that first at home. What does it mean for us to have a child? Who is going to take care of it? Are you going to give up part of your career because I did not study in order to sit at home and baby-sit my children?

swissinfo: If you had a message for the men, who form the vast majority of managers and business leaders in Switzerland, what would that be?

M.R.S.: It would be: Take in as many women as possible for a very pragmatic reason: to profit from their way of thinking, solving problems or communicating. Unless we get to a point where men realise this is a desirable thing – not a thing of justice or equal opportunity – we won't have come very far... If men don't realise that women can contribute tremendously to the profits of a company, then we will still have to struggle.

swissinfo-interview: Robert Brookes

In brief

Dr Monique R. Siegel helps the business community to create and implement change.

In 1980 Siegel founded MRS Mind Revival Strategies, a management consultant firm specialising in innovation and change management.

The achievement for which she is most widely known is the establishment of the international Management Symposium for Women, Zurich, which she created in 1985.

She has written a number of best sellers.

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