Swiss Board Study: Progress on Gender Equality, Sustainability, and Digitalization Slows

DEIIndustry TrendsNext Generation BoardsDiversity & CultureBoard and CEO AdvisoryBoard of DirectorsSustainability OfficersDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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Cornelia Tänzler
September 12, 2023
3 min read
DEIIndustry TrendsNext Generation BoardsDiversity & CultureBoard and CEO AdvisoryBoard of DirectorsSustainability OfficersDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
Executive Summary
SMI-listed companies now rank last for women’s board representation in comparison with major European stock indices.
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Companies listed on the Swiss Market Index (SMI) have taken significant steps toward gender parity on their boards in recent years. And our latest Swiss Board Study shows that 19 of the 20 SMI companies have reached the legal threshold of at least 30% of board members being women, up from 15 last year.

But the overall average has hardly shifted, only climbing 0.1 percentage points to 34.4%. This slow progress means the SMI is now behind every other major European stock index in terms of gender balance on boards.

 

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Notably, the second-tier Swiss stock index, SMI Mid (SMIM), has moved closer to gender parity than the SMI for the first time. Across the 28 SMIM companies, 36% of board members are women.

Progress is also mixed when looking at the distribution of power within SMI bodies:

  • Only one board chair is a woman, the same as in 2022.
  • There are now four women who are deputy chairs, up from two in 2022.
  • 16 committee chairs are women, down from 17 in 2022.

 

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Shifting focus from sustainability and digitalization

While almost all SMI companies have surpassed the legal threshold for board gender diversity, they are facing other areas of concern. Our analysis suggests that other pressing challenges that organizations face today have shifted focus away from sustainability and digitalization.

Last year, 55% of boards had a sustainability committee or sustainability director. Now, that proportion has dropped to just 45%. In comparison, in Germany the number of DAX boards with a dedicated sustainability committee rose 31% despite all boards tying compensation to ESG goals, highlighting the potential for Swiss companies to fall behind their European counterparts.

A similar pattern is recognizable with regards to digitalization. While in 2022, 70% of SMI boards had members with proven digital competence, now only 60% do. Meanwhile, the number of DAX boards with a digital expert has grown from 72% to 78%.

This downward trend could be worrying as in-depth knowledge in these areas is important for non-executive directors to be able to engage management, ask the right questions, and make the right strategic decisions.

 

 

 

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Read the full SMI(M) Board of Directors Study 2023 Excerpt

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