The proportion of women on the board of directors of top Swiss companies is 11.6%, below the EU average of 15.6%. Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga wants to set a legal minimum of 30% for all publicly listed firms.
While three out of seven Swiss cabinet ministers are women, the situation is less rosy in the boardrooms of big companies, with Switzerland far behind Scandinavian countries such as Norway (36.4%), Finland (27.1%) and Sweden (24.6%), according to 2012 figures.
Switzerland’s performance was described as “sobering”, by Martin Dumermuth, director of the justice ministry, who told the NZZ am Sonntag that despite “strenuous efforts made by some companies, we haven’t really got any further”.
Sommaruga has therefore proposed, as part of the revision of the stock corporation law, a legally binding gender quota of 30% women in board positions, which all companies listed on the stock exchange will have to comply with following a ten-year transition period.
The figure is the same as that of guidelines, approved last November, for 29 companies with close links to the Swiss government and which are to be implemented by 2020. These include the Post Office, the Swisscom telecom company, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, the Skyguide air traffic control, the financial and nuclear safety regulators and the RUAG armament firm.
The EU has set a target of 40% for publicly listed firms by 2020.
So far, Swiss parliamentarians have always rejected such measures, most recently last winter. The centre-right majority argues that fixed quotas are the wrong way to promote women.
“The responsibility for choosing the best people should be left to the companies themselves – without state intervention,” said Nadja Pieren from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.
The Swiss Business Federation economiesuisse acknowledges that the situation is unsatisfactory but rejects rigid quotas, preferring to push for voluntary measures.
For the first time the federation’s Code of Best Practice explicitly addresses the issue. A new paragraph in the latest edition, set to be published at the end of the month, says: “female and male members should belong to the board of directors”. Previously the recommendation was merely for a “balanced composition”.
Companies which don’t sign up to the recommendations will now have to gives reasons why.
Whether Sommaruga can overcome such resistance and convince the rest of the cabinet – not least the economics ministry – of quotas remains to be seen.