Swiss companies have long relied on workforces that are largely homogeneous, as this is believed to maximise employee performance and efficiency. However, after 2000 the industry perspective shifted as large companies came to regard diversity management as an instrument for improving equality and reputation. Today, diversity plays a crucial role in creating sustainable organisational structures and can even benefit companies economically.

Advantages

Studies have shown that mixed groups are more innovative and make better decisions than homogeneous groups due to a wider range of experiences, competencies and perspectives. In addition to utilising their employees' individual strengths, companies with diverse workforces are better able to meet customers' individual needs via individualised target groups, which can also significantly improve their image and competitiveness. Above all, it is important to integrate diversity management directly into corporate development and reflect the diversity of employees, especially their ideas and individual business practices. An individual's leadership skills are greatly improved in a diverse workgroup which challenges their routines, attitudes and behaviour patterns.

Swiss context

Switzerland's cultural diversity is evidenced by its four national languages and its geographical position between seven major European cultures; population groups with different origins have become a matter of course. Further, the country has enshrined the principle of cultural diversity into its Constitution.

However, Swiss companies seldom promote women into management positions. According to the schillingreport 2018 – in which 250 of Switzerland's most important companies participated – the proportion of women on executive boards rose from 4% in 2006 to 8% in 2017. Further, the proportion of women on supervisory boards rose from 10% in 2010 to 17% in 2017. However, these levels do not meet the Federal Council targets of 30% female representation on boards of directors and 20% on executive boards, which are also set out in the draft law on the new stock corporation law. Compared with other Western European countries, Switzerland performs poorly in this regard. Thus, it must keep up with the world leaders and defend its position as a key global economic centre.

Switzerland's position can be explained by the fact that a large percentage of its female workforce prefer to work part time. As in Scandinavia, most Swiss companies do not offer childcare services and mothers are thus discouraged from careers as (for example) managers from the outset.

Because women are an indispensable part of corporate boards and encourage highly innovative decision making, more flexible working hours and childcare services are needed. Although this will not necessarily increase female representation at the executive level, it can be an incentive to reconcile work and family life.

For Switzerland to achieve a higher proportion of women in management positions, a cultural shift is needed. This could have an impact not only on corporate culture, but also on society in general. While many men in executive positions benefit from a level of trust from the outset – often irrespective of their performance – women must still fight for recognition.

Quotas

Statutory quotas for women are not the way forward for several reasons. The revision of the stock corporation law does not provide for any penalties. If a company does not achieve the required quotas, it needs only to explain why they could not be achieved. In addition, according to the so-called 'comply or explain' approach under the draft law on the new stock corporation law, only measures for improvement are required.

This approach is problematic as a means of achieving actual equality and it remains to be seen whether it can really change anything in practice. A woman's qualifications and professional experience are crucial for determining her suitability for a management position, not the fact that a quota requires a woman.

For further information on this topic please contact Hasret Mutlu at Rihm Rechtsanwälte by telephone (+41 44 377 77 20) or email (hasret.mutlu@rihm-law.ch). The Rihm Rechtsanwälte website can be accessed at www.rihm-law.ch.

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