Stop the advancement of women!

A spectre is looming on the horizon: With the upcoming stock corporation law reformgender benchmarks for executive boards (at least 80/20) and boards of directors (at least 70/30) will be introduced for listed Swiss companies. The phantom that spreads fear is, among others, the so called “quota woman”. Those responsible are already afraid of the state of emergency of explanation if the quotas are not reached. And there is fear that the management floors of the top Swiss companies will now be flooded with underqualified, overpromoted women who endanger the Swiss success model. By definition, “quota women” are inferior beings. That’s why it’s better to keep everything the same until the women have actually qualified themselves in sufficient numbers. The plot of the system keepers sounds like this or similar.

However, this attitude does not help us in any way. In fact, all companies want more women in management, and the economy needs them at all levels to remain prosperous. The only question that seems difficult to answer is “how can we achieve that?”. Over the years the topic has become complicated and costly. So let’s look for real solutions – which actually are closer than one might think. Here comes a suggestion.


First, let’s look at the facts: In Switzerland, over the next 15 years, one million workers will retire from working life and only half a million Swiss residents will follow1. That is demographic change. Digitisation will probably only close part of the gap. The immigration of foreign workers is also helping to alleviate the problem but is politically controversial. The largest untapped national potential is then women2, who make up slightly more than half of the population. Their share of university degrees has been rising for decades and for some years now more women than men have completed tertiary education3. The performance level of women is generally better than that of men at all levels of education. And so most large companies have been recruiting with a balanced gender ratio for around 10 years4The “gender bend” becomes evident from the first promotion level onwards. Already after the first promotion stage the proportion of women decreases noticeably4. This trend is even more pronounced in large companies than in small ones5Women who nevertheless make it to the top are on average 20% more qualified than their male colleagues6. And in general, women perform slightly better than men7 in terms of leadership aptitude. So please don’t believe the myth about the lack of qualified women. The problem must be somewhere else.

A popular and widespread explanation for the lack of women on the carpet floors is that women shy away from responsibility, do not want to lead and prefer to focus on starting a family with part-time employment around their mid-thirties. As with any fairy tale, there is of course a little truth to it, but no more than that. On the other hand, there are 15% women who lose the job they would have liked to keep because of their pregnancy8. That is proven. So is that 20% of all mothers work full-time, but over 50% of all women without school-age children are employed with a workload of less than 50%9. The crucial question is rather: How do we manage in Switzerland to get the countless women who work part-time to become more committed to the economy?

Answering this question makes human resources issues an agenda item for the boards of directors and a political topic. In the following, I would therefore like to clear up various common approaches and compare them with scientifically researched alternatives. Some of them may seem strange at first glance because they are unfamiliar. But perhaps you’ll just let the ideas work on you a little longer.


The usual magic formulas have been around for years: Women’s promotion and behaviour optimization programs, company daycare places, part-time work, etc. But hardly anyone dares to admit it publicly: these programs are far from achieving the desired success. The first myth is the “advancement of women”. Please just stop it. You don’t need a Diversity & Inclusion department, nor do you need any gender-related special treatment in development programmes, promotions or networks. All “promotion of women” is based on the attitude that women must be specially promoted in order to become equal. This is a disparaging, unproductive starting position that reinforces the problem rather than solves it. It is not at all women’s fault. So, do not delegate the issue of diversity to a woman in middle management, because it has no effect there. Special programmes for women to promote talent merely increase segregation and nourish the perception that women are somewhat abnormal and inferior.

Instead, start by screening your personnel decisions for systemic errors in the organization that result in your executives promoting disproportionately more men than women10. How does this happen? What stereotypes, blind spots and one-sided qualification models are at work and how do you avoid these traps? Make all members of your management personally responsible for the ongoing implementation of Diversity & Inclusion without delegation exit doors. Create effective sanctions in the event that the personnel strategy of “using 100% of the talent pool” is not implemented in an area. As unpopular as they are, gender benchmarks help and bring success. Since the British BBC introduced 50/50 targets for staff and editorial content, the medium has sold significantly better11.


Stop “anti-bias trainings” because they are ineffective12. People generally believe that they have no distortions of perception and are fair in their judgements. It is against human nature to allow “unconscious biases” to be publicly persuaded in a group training session and then to be dissuaded again. That does not work. Changes in behaviour are achieved through cleverly adapted choice architectures that produce more qualified results and more fairness on their own and completely voluntarily. A concrete example: Remove from application documents before the first selection all disturbance information, which make no statement about the qualification of the person: First name, surname, gender, marital status, number of children, nationality, place of residence, age, photos. The diversity of candidates in the shortlist will thus increase automatically. Since American top orchestras have musicians playing behind a curtain and without shoes, the proportion of women has risen from 5% to 40%13. And everyone is convinced that they have chosen the right and most qualified musicians – before and after.


Please do not provide company crèche places. Especially not to attract more women. This is a boomerang. Compatibility of work and family life affects both sexes. A nursery place at the mother’s office ties her to the role of the caretaker alone and thus prevents her from travelling and working overtime. Children should have their care structures at their parents’ place of residence so that both parents can and must take care of family logistics in equal measure14. And so that both parents and children can form sustainable social family networks. Therefore, instead of advocating company crèches, you should politically advocate nationwide daycare structures for children aged 0-15.


Abolish part-time models, because only those who work full time will be fully respected. Even a reduction to 90% represents a considerable career brake for both men and women15Eliminate this discrimination. Instead, change the frame of reference, what is considered “normal” in your company. This is something for the very brave: introduce the 32-hour week. Adapt the headcount, wages and distribution of tasks to the new capacities – including the shift schedules, if required by your company. Deviations are subject to approval and are listed as surcharges or deductions on the payroll statement. Productivity per salary franc will increase significantly and at the same time employee satisfaction, employer attractiveness and much more16.


Abolish personal qualification interviews at the end of the year and any other opportunities where managers can bring their subjective stereotypes to bear on employees. For example, unstructured job interviews. Psychometric instruments and general intelligence tests predict with considerably greater precision who is suitable for which position and promotion than the gut feeling of an HR manager with average experience – let alone a line manager. It’s hard to digest, but well researched: people are relatively unskilled at assessing other people’s qualities and potential. Unless they are very similar to themselves. And this is exactly where the problem with diversity arises16.

Ask yourself how promotions and leadership development work in your company. How is “talent” measured? How is “potential” recognized? Do you have an inclusive culture in which diversity is cultivated, valued and used? Or do you have a one-sided culture that promotes self-similarity? How pronounced is isolation behaviour between departments, or the informal pecking order?

If you know several women who refuse promotions in your company or leave management positions quickly, this is probably due to a hostile corporate culture. Pay more attention to soft skills in promotions. Introduce a culture barometerExecutives shape the corporate culture and the corporate culture shapes the progress of employees and managers.


Not all “resource problems” can be solved at the enterprise level. There is also political scope to create optimal market conditions for your company17. Here are a few examples: The affordable day care structures already mentioned above prevent women from stumbling into the experience gap and the mini part-time trap with all its long-term consequences during their family time. An organised lunch for pupils in a nursing home is not a daycare structure, but a promising trick to prove as quickly as possible that there is no need. Daycare rather includes learning, nutrition, inspiration, leisure activities, social interactions, homework, education, benevolent supervision, space, movement, opportunities for retreat, emotional attention. Also during school holidays. The demand for parental leave instead of today’s maternity leave has the same effect.

Our tax system is still based on the sole breadwinner model from the middle of the last century. With an employment rate of women currently at a record 87%, this model has long since been outdated, even hindering the employment of women. It practically forces women into mini part-time work – here, too, Switzerland is leading17. A change to progressive individual taxation irrespective of marital status would not only solve the problem of marriage penalty. By favouring two middle incomes for couples without school-age children, it would also act as an incentive to increase the number of working hours of mini-part-timers.


If you are really convinced that women and men are equal, then help eliminate all gender inequalities step by step. Of course, this also includes the inequalities from which women benefit. Privately you may have different preferences, but as an entrepreneurial person you should be interested in optimal market conditions and strategic advantages in recruiting in a world short of skilled workers. A first step towards creating better conditions for your company as an attractive employer is a change of attitude in the minds and hearts of management. Stop promoting women. Instead, start reducing inequalities and systemic errors and taking personal responsibility for your leaders. Also commit yourself politically to the necessary systemic changes, so that your company learns to use 100% of the talent pool.

Details to the facts / further sources

1 2017. Schweizerischer Arbeitgeberverband (Hrsg.), Brennpunkt Arbeitsmarkt.

2 2019. Bundesamt für Statistik, Medienmitteilung vom 23.07.2019 zu Arbeit und Erwerb, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

3 2019. Bundesamt für Statistik, Studierende an den universitären Hochschulen nach Jahr, Fachbereich, Studienstufe, Geschlecht und Hochschule, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

4 2018. ADVANCE & HSG, Gender Intelligence Report 2018, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

5 2019. Ernst & Young, Unternehmensbarometer 2019, Frauen in Führungspositionen, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

6 2019. Tomas Chamurro Premuzic, Why so many incompetent men become leaders?, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston. Bezug bei Schulthess

7 2019. Zenger Jack/Folkmann Joseph, Women score higher than men in most leadership skills, Harvard Business Review, Juni 2019, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

8 2019. Gnehm Claudia, Schweizer Firmen entlassen junge Mütter, Handelszeitung vom 13.02.2019, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019

9 2019. Bundesamt für Statistik, Mütter auf dem Arbeitsmarkt, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019

10 2017. Tomas Chamurro Premuzic, The Talent Delusion, London. Bezug bei Schulthess

11 2019. Laeri Patrizia, Das Frauenproblem der Medien, Blick vom 28.05.2019, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

12 2019. FehrAdvice & Partners, Was Online-Diversity-Training bringt – und was nicht, Blogbeitrag, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

13 2016. Bohnet Iris, What works – gender equality by design, Harvard University Press, Cambridge. Bezug bei Schulthess

14 2018. Jacobs Foundation, Whitepaper zur Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Beruf: Zwischen Wunsch und Realität, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

15 2017. Michael Gasser, Kaufmännischer Verband Schweiz, Teilzeit gefährdet die Karriere, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

16 2019. Brunner Raphael, Warum sich weniger arbeiten für alle auszahlt, Beobachter vom 03.04.2019, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

17 2013. OECD, Economic Surveys Switzerland, Nov. 2013, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019.

18 2019. Müller-Möhl-Foundation, Ecoplan Studie: Auswirkungen einer Individualbesteuerung, aufgerufen am 22.08.2019

Translation of the blog article by Esther-Mirjam de Boer, CEO of GetDiversity on from 16 August 2019.