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Women still struggle to break top ranks in Swiss firms

Women are under-proportionally promoted to top ranks in organisations in Switzerland. Keystone/patrick Huerlimann

Women represent around half of employees in non-management levels at major companies in Switzerland, but promotion rates between men and women remain far from equal.

This content was published on September 10, 2020 - 14:40
UNISG/Advance/jdp

This is according to the fourth annual edition of the Gender Intelligence ReportExternal link published by the University of St Gallen and business association Advance on Thursday. Despite improvements in promotion rates for women, the authors argue “there is a long way to go, with promotions remaining the biggest lever to achieve gender equality”.

The report analysed data of 302,000 employees across 75 organisations in Switzerland. While nearly half of employees in non-management roles are women (49%), this drops to 29% in management positions.

In top management, the female representation drops further to 18%. To fix this, the authors recommend that companies consider gender promotion targets. For example, if women make up 33% of one management band then a third of promotions to the next hierarchical level should be women.

This would improve the pipeline of female candidates for top management roles.

The report also highlights an “age trap” – the years between 31 and 40 when many women start families. It is in this “rush hour of life” that there is a striking drop in the proportion of women at work compared to men.

“This is most likely connected with family care that is still largely taken on by women in Switzerland,” states the report. “As long as full-time is the norm in management and care work is distributed unevenly, this structural disadvantage poses one of the biggest hurdles to women’s careers.”

Last year’s nationwide women’s strike called for changes including reducing costs of childcare and pay inequity.

The report acknowledged progress in some areas. Some 67% of organisations offer paternity leave beyond the common practice of one or two days and over two-thirds have a mentoring or other career support program for women. In October, a record number of women were elected to parliament in Switzerland. 

Leaders and laggards

This year’s report introduced the Gender Maturity Compass that assessed where companies stand in reaching gender equality at four stages. Some 61% reach the first stage, which is about having a commitment to women in leadership.

At the other end, only 5% have reached the highest maturity stage (stage 4) of fully advancing gender diversity. These companies have a similar gender ratio at all hierarchical levels.

"In international comparison, Switzerland is still like a toddler. It is lagging behind”, said Gudrun SanderExternal link, one of the report authors and a professor at the University of St Gallen, at the online presentation of the report on Thursday.

One important development in Switzerland, notes the authors, is the legal mandate for organisations with more than 100 employees to perform an equal salary analysis every four years as of July 2020.

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