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Glass ceiling: report highlights huge gender divide on Swiss boards

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Glass ceiling: report highlights huge gender divide on Swiss boards
Photo: Depositphotos
10:14 CET+01:00
Swiss women only won the right to vote in 1971 but the country has come a long way since then when it comes to equality between the sexes.

However, while women now make up just under half of all employees in a country where stay at home mums used to be the order of the day, they continue to be seriously underrepresented in top company roles, as a new study carried out by Business Monitor shows.

Women hold just 23.6 percent of all decision-making roles in the country's firms and the gender imbalance is ever more marked on company boards, the study into 900,000 Swiss firms from 2008 to 2018 reveals.

Read also: 14 fascinating facts about the history of women's rights in Switzerland

Only 16.68 percent of seats on the boards of Swiss limited companies are filled by women and that drops to less than one in ten (8.9 percent) for board presidents.

By comparison, 21.1 percent of board positions were held by women in Germany in 2015. That figure was 34 percent in France and 22.8 percent in the UK, according to a 2016 Credit Suisse report.

In terms of overall decision-making roles in Switzerland, there are big differences between sectors, but even in industries with a high percentage of female employees, the vast majority of key positions are held by men.

Women hold 77 percent of all jobs in the health sector, for example, but occupy just 36.7 percent of decision-making positions. For education, women make up 55 percent of the workforce but can only lay claim to a third of all key roles.

At the bottom end of the scale, just 10.5 percent of decision-making roles in the energy industry are held by women.

A mixed report card

Switzerland was ranked in the 2016 World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report as the 11th most gender equal country in the world and sixth in Europe, but down three places from a year earlier.

In 1981 gender equality and equal pay for equal work was enshrined in the Swiss constitution. Nevertheless, there is still a recognized 19.3 percent gender pay gap in Switzerland, against a European average of 16.4 percent, according to London-based business comparison site Expert Market.

The Swiss government put that figure at 7.4 percent in 2017.

The Swiss upper house only last week rejected a cabinet proposal designed to reduce the pay gap in the country despite recognising the fact that the current law needs an overhaul.

Read also: Initiative for quota in federal government rejected

The rejected inititative would have seen firms with over 50 employees regularly required to provide public information on pay for both women and men. Firms that failed to ensure equal pay would not have been fined but would have had to ensure salaries were levelled out.

But after politicians in the upper house rejected the plan, the proposal will go back to the drawing board with supporters fearing that a decaffeinated version of the initiative will result.

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