Women entering senior management positions only slowly – successful companies have more balanced gender ratio

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  • One-fifth of management positions in medium-sized companies are held by women
  • Successful companies do considerably more to support the advancement of women
  • Small companies are more likely to have women at the top
  • Well over half see no link between gender diversity and economic success
  • EY recommends a five-point program for Swiss companies

ZURICH, 7 MARCH 2017 ‒ The proportion of women in management positions in medium-sized companies in Switzerland is increasing slowly. Only just under one-fifth (19%) of the members of executive boards and boards of directors are now women, according to a recent survey by advisory firm EY. Two years ago, this figure was 17%. Furthermore, management boards made up solely of men are on the decline: this proportion is down from 41% two years ago to 35% today.

There are certain regional differences in this respect: while in Western Switzerland, only around a quarter (27%) of executive boards are made up only of men, the figure is much higher in German-speaking Switzerland at 38%. There is also a clear difference across sectors of industry: 28% of service providers have a woman at the helm, while retail (18%), life sciences (15%) and industry (15%) occupy the middle ground. At just 13%, there are fewest women at the top management level in construction and energy.

Smaller companies have more women at the top
Smaller companies are still coming out best when it comes to the proportion of women in top management roles: in the under CHF 30 million revenue class, companies employ an average of 21% women at management level, while the figure is significantly lower at 13% at larger organizations generating more than CHF 100 million. “The management echelons of Swiss companies are still largely occupied by men,” explains Marcel Stalder, CEO of EY Switzerland. “However, the proportion of women has increased slightly. But companies are still a long way from equality at management level. For EY, it is obvious ahead of International Women’s Day that the Swiss economy needs to face up to the challenge and diversify management.”

Large companies with even lower proportion of women at the top
A study supported by EY for last year’s International Women’s Day (available in German only) and carried out among 207 large companies in Switzerland revealed levels which were still lower. According to the study, 9% of board of directors' members were women, with the figure a mere 8% for executive boards. “Medium-sized companies are ahead when it comes to female representation on management boards,” reports Robin Errico, Partner at EY Switzerland responsible for diversity and inclusion. “But they should not be resting on their laurels. The fact that only one in five management members is a woman is not a true reflection of the current working world. The aim must be to have just as many women as men at top management level. Our advisory experience shows that companies with more women in management positions have advantages in the market. Their employees are more committed, their company culture is more open and their economic performance increases.”

Successful companies do more to support women’s advancement
The survey shows that successful companies have a higher proportion of women at management level. Companies which rate their financial situation as “good” and expect it to improve further employ 20% women at top management level, while companies rating their financial situation as “relatively poor” or “poor” and not expecting any improvement only have 16% women. Successful companies are more likely to support the advancement of women, with 30% of them saying they do so, compared to only 15% of less successful companies. On average, 21% of all the companies surveyed have an active policy of advancing women.

However, what this policy actually involves varies between companies. For instance, 9% of the companies surveyed offer flexible working time models, 7% offer women specific training to further their careers and 5% provide their management with training on equality.

42% believe higher proportion of women has positive influence
Of the companies surveyed, 42% believe that a higher proportion of women in management positions has a positive effect on the success of the company. This is significantly more than the number of those who actively promote women's careers. “Mixed teams work better and allow companies to be more successful. Many companies are already aware of this. But the process of getting more women to the top is not something that can happen overnight. Many companies are not determined enough in their actions. They need to work on an open company culture and systematically encourage young female talent,” explains Robin Errico.

Their efforts should not fail for a lack of suitable women: 65% of companies report that they have no difficulties in finding suitably qualified women. But the bigger the company, the more difficult recruitment can be. This seems the most challenging in industry.

Companies need to act in their own interests
EY also advises companies on issues of diversity and inclusiveness and has worked out five areas of action in which companies can make changes themselves.

  • Lighting up the way to the top: Successful companies actively help women navigate a career path to the top: women should be given a clear framework within which to focus on their own strengths and achievements. Internal and external leadership programs and networks help women get ahead. The introduction of measurable, realistic targets for the proportion of women in top management also provides excellent motivation.
  • Improving opportunities for flexible working: Women are still more involved with housework and parenting and are therefore reliant on flexibility. Flexible work for men is also possible and can allow their career-oriented partners to get a step ahead. It is also increasingly difficult to separate work and home life: what's needed is the integration of both worlds. This means that women have to consciously deal with their own working commitments, be able to enjoy a company's trust and have the necessary technical working tools at their disposal.
  • Creating a supportive environment: The importance of company management in bringing about a change in culture cannot be overestimated. Women feel motivated when they are given visible support. Companies should therefore oblige their top management to be available for mentor roles.
  • Increasing awareness of prejudice: Many employees are not aware that they view and treat other employees differently. It is mainly women who suffer from these often unconscious prejudices and unreflected behavior patterns. Companies can address this in their management training, which needs to make people aware of prejudices and of how to adapt to deal with them.
  • Promoting careful, targeted recruitment: If the shift in culture is taking too long, companies need to recruit women externally for top positions. As the pool in Switzerland is limited and skilled women are in demand, companies need to work on their image and work with head-hunters.

EY has set clear targets
EY is also actively working to improve diversity in management. “We have set ourselves a target of increasing the number of female Partners to 25% by 2020. We also want to achieve gender parity, or as close as we can get, among the 300 university graduates that we take on each year. In order to achieve our targets, we factor gender issues into all HR decisions, from recruitment through promotion, personal objectives and pay,” explains CEO Marcel Stalder.


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