• Governance

Progress in Gender Equality

Gender parity may be some way off but the Swiss example shows that progress is being made

Wednesday 29 September 2021


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‘Gender inequality at work persists across Europe, despite the long-standing attention paid and efforts made to tackle it.’ Eurofound (2020), European Working Conditions Survey

While gender inequality not only persist in Europe, particularly at senior executive and boardroom level, it is occasionally worth remembering the progress that has been made within living memory. Only in 1965 did French wives get the right to work without their husband’s permission. Women did not receive the right to vote in the UK until 1929, in France until 1945, and extraordinarily in Switzerland until 1971.

Celebrating 50 years since female emancipation in Switzerland, IEDP is pleased to reproduce this article from University of St. Gallen’s Prof. Dr. Gudrun Sander:

50 years ago, women in Switzerland finally received the long-awaited right to vote. I have lived and worked in Switzerland for more than 30 years and one of my main areas is gender equality. In many places, people complain that things are not moving forward with gender equality. Even though there is still a lot to do, here is a brief look at some positive developments in Swiss companies.

Since 2017, the Competence Centre for Diversity and Inclusion publishes the annual Gender Intelligence Report together with Advance. For this purpose, in 2021 we analysed more than 90 companies (100 or more employees) in Switzerland. This year, anonymised data from approximately 320,000 employees, 122,000 of whom are in management are included. Although the study is not representative in the statistical sense, as it does not take SMEs fully into account, it does allow conclusions to be drawn about how gender equality in Switzerland is developing in medium-sized and larger companies and what measures are currently being implemented by the companies—especially with a focus on the perennial issue of women in management positions. In this, three positive developments stand out: 

  • The turnover rates of women and men in management, but largely also among employees overall, are converging and are now almost identical. This indicates that corporate cultures are improving their ability to leverage diversity and are no longer only made for men by men.
  • This year, for the first time, we see a shrinking disadvantage of near-full-time positions in promotions. In recent years, employees with an employment percentage between 80 and 99% have been promoted significantly less often, with large differences between sectors. For the first time, this year’s results show hardly any differences in promotions compared to full-time employees.
  • Wage discrimination in the narrower sense (equal pay for equal work or work of equal value) is relatively low. The deadline for reviewing wages expired at the end of June. At the CCDI we have analysed or advised numerous companies in this regard. In our sample, only three percent exceeded the Confederation’s tolerance value of five percent for the unexplained wage difference for work of equal value.

Nevertheless, much remains to be done. In terms of equal pay, employment discrimination is the biggest challenge. The high-wage sector—be it in higher management positions or STEM professions—is still dominated by men. This is related to the images in our heads or so-called unconscious biases. Unconsciously, we still see men in leadership positions, and women taking care of the children. Consequently, many professions and leadership positions remain strongly segregated by gender. However, many of our structures and processes are still based on old images: For example, companies expecting a candidate to have a certain number of years of experience or very specific training when applying to generalist management positions or a government with a tax system adding up incomes and thus setting a false incentive for a higher employment level for women.

We can all contribute to making equality a reality more quickly—on a small and large scale. As leaders, we can also counteract the looming shortage of skilled workers and managers and maintain the innovative force of our companies.

Learn more at and register for the 5th D&I Week at

This article is reproduced from Vistathe online magazine of the Executive School, University of St. Gallen.


Prof. Dr. Gudrun Sander has been working for equal opportunities, the advancement of women and inclusion for more than 25 years. She is a titular professor, Director of the Competence Centre for Diversity and Inclusion and Co-Director of the Research Institute for International Management at the University of St. Gallen. With her team of 30 employees, she supports organizations on their way to more equal opportunities.

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