Women are still failing to reach the highest echelons of Swiss companies and only account for 15 per cent of senior management, according to the Swiss Employers’ Association.
The organisation has launched a five-year campaign to boost their numbers and make firms aware of the difficulties facing women in the workplace.
“Entrenched attitudes - both in society and in the workplace - lie at the heart of the problem,” Rudolf Stämpfli, president of the Employers’ Association, told swissinfo.
“The whole world economy is dominated by men and that’s always been the case. We can’t just order people to change their attitudes. It has to be an ongoing process.”
Only 26 per cent of working women reach middle management, compared with 49 per cent of men. And women account for only one per cent of chief executives and board members.
Stämpfli admits that correcting this discrepancy is a huge undertaking.
“Women often have to juggle both a career and a family and generally cram far more into their day than men,” said Stämpfli. “But companies don’t take that into account and that’s something we have to teach them.”
Sybille Burger-Bono of the Swiss National Council for Women’s Organisations welcomed the initiative.
“It’s a good first step and I’m very hopeful that this campaign will give women more of a chance in the coming years,” she told swissinfo.
“We need to start by having more women at general management level so that more can make it to the very top.”
But Burger-Bono said a lack of self-confidence among Swiss women also contributed to their failure to break through the glass ceiling.
“We’ve noticed that Swiss women are taught to keep a low profile from an early age and not to fight for more equal rights,” she explained. “That’s also got to change.”
The Employer’s Association is issuing a set of recommendations to Swiss companies, giving practical advice on how women can be helped along the career ladder.
It also plans to launch courses for companies encouraging them to introduce schemes for working mothers, such as job-sharing programmes.
It also plans to address the issue of the salary gap between the sexes. It is estimated that women in Switzerland earn between a third and a quarter less than men.
But Stämpfli said the campaign deliberately stopped short of setting companies targets.
“It’s much better to get men to recognise that women do face certain problems in building up their careers,” Stämpfli explained. “If we push companies to reach certain goals we could be creating an atmosphere of resistance.”
“We need to make companies aware of the fact that they will be the ones to gain by promoting women.”
The well-meaning initiative does not demand that firms shoulder the burden on their own – especially when it comes to childcare facilities.
“Working mothers definitely need more support, such as childcare,” Stämpfli admitted. “But that doesn’t have to come from the government or even from companies. Friends and relatives should also be sharing the burden.”
Swiss women are alone in western Europe in not being entitled to statutory maternity leave.
The Swiss parliament in September approved the introduction of paid maternity leave but the issue still has to go to a nationwide vote later this year, when it is likely to be opposed by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.
The Swiss have rejected proposals for the introduction of paid maternity leave three times over the past 15 years.
swisssinfo, Vanessa Mock
29% of working women have jobs at management level.
Women make up 1% of board members and chief executives in Switzerland.
Women earn between one third and one quarter less than men.
Switzerland is the only country in western Europe not to have statutory maternity leave.
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