Switzerland is often praised for its high standard of living, its innovation capacity, and its political stability. However, when it comes to gender equality, the country still has a lot of room for improvement. Despite some progress in recent years, Switzerland ranks 14th out of 33 OECD countries in PwC's Women in Work Index; which measures gender gaps in employment, wages, leadership, and work-life balance.
One of the main challenges facing Swiss women is the persistent wage gap. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, women earned on average 17% less than men in 2018, which translates into CHF 23 billion of lost income per year for women. The wage gap is partly explained by differences in education, occupation, and working hours, but also by direct or indirect discrimination. Although in the year 2023 this might be hard news to read, The Swiss government has introduced a new law that requires companies with more than 100 employees to conduct regular pay equity analyses and report them to an independent body, which is a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, this is one of the contributors to a real problem in Europe as a whole; which is the gender pension gap. If you imagine that year on year women are earning less than men then it will come as now shock that on average women in Switzerland retire with a pension pot of 37% less than a man’s, according to a report by the Federal Social Insurance Office. 37%.
Another challenge is the low representation of women in leadership positions. Only 26% of top managers in the Swiss economy are women, according to PwC. This is partly due to the lack of female role models, mentors, and networks, as well as to stereotypes and biases that hinders the career advancement of women. To address this issue, some initiatives have been launched to promote female leadership, such as Advance Women and Women Back to Business.
A long standing challenge women face is the difficulty of balancing work and family responsibilities. Switzerland has one of the highest rates of part-time work among women in the OECD (59%), compared to only 18% among men. This is mainly because women bear most of the burden of unpaid work, such as childcare and household chores. Switzerland also has one of the most expensive childcare systems in Europe, which discourages many women from working full-time or at all. All of these topics attribute to things like the gender pension gap as well as financial inequality for women in Switzerland. Whilst taking gaps in their careers it is common to see women miss out on key aspects of financial planning which can create much more damaging effects later down the line. The Swiss government has taken some measures to increase the availability and affordability of childcare facilities, such as subsidizing daycare centres and introducing tax deductions for childcare expenses, however the problem still persists.
Despite these challenges, there are also some positive signs of change. For instance, Switzerland has seen a significant increase in the educational attainment of women over the past two decades. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, while 17% of women between the ages of 25 and 34 had completed higher vocational training or higher education in 2000, this figure had risen to 54% by 2018. The proportion of young men who completed higher education increased less sharply, from 34% to 49% between 2000 and 2018.
Another sign of progress is the growing political participation and representation of women. In 2019, Switzerland celebrated the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage at the federal level, which was granted only in 1971 after a long struggle. In the same year, Swiss women staged a massive strike to demand more action on gender equality issues. The strike had a visible impact on the federal elections that followed, as women won 42% of the seats in the National Council (the lower house of parliament), up from 32% in 2015.
These examples show that gender equality is not only a matter of justice and human rights, but also a source of economic and social benefits for Switzerland. Closing the gender gap would boost the country's GDP by 6%, or CHF 33 billion, according to PwC. It would also enhance the diversity and creativity of its workforce, its political system, and its society as a whole.
- Gender equality | Federal Statistical Office - admin.ch
- Gender inequality remains high in Switzerland - SME portal of SECO
- 5 reasons why Switzerland's gender gap is getting smaller - World Economic Forum