Members of the senate voted 27 to 13 in favour of government plans that will see 30 percent of positions on Swiss boards of directors set aside for women within five years and 20 percent of positions on Swiss executive board designated for women within 10 years.
By backing the quotas, the senate followed the lead of the lower house of parliament, which also voted in favour of the regulation last June – although only by a wafer-thin majority of just one vote.
The plans, described by supporters as a “gender guideline”, are expected to affect around 200 to 250 companies across Switzerland.
However, there is no plan to impose sanctions on companies that do not fulfil the quotas.
Instead these firms will simply have to explain their reasons and set out how they plan to rectify the situation.
Yesterday’s vote in the Swiss senate came just days after a massive turnout for Switzerland’s woman’s strike for gender equality, which has been described as the largest protest in modern Swiss history.
During a debate in the senate before the vote, Christian Democrat (CVP) Beat Vonlanthen said it was “almost painful” to debate such a “super-soft” regulation.
He said failure to do so would be “a slap in the face for women”.
Speaking to the media after the debate, Socialist senator Anita Fetz said: “This is a small victory that has been produced by the women's strike”.
A recent study of 900,000 Swiss firms found women hold just 23.6 percent of all decision-making roles in the country's firms while only 16.68 percent of seats on the boards of Swiss limited companies are filled by women.
That drops to less than one in ten (8.9 percent) for board presidents, according to the Business Monitor study.