Swiss Executive Committee Landscape: Increased Focus on Sustainability, While Progress Toward Gender Parity Stalls

Industry TrendsNext Generation BoardsBoard and CEO AdvisoryBoard of DirectorsDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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May 08, 2024
4 min read
Industry TrendsNext Generation BoardsBoard and CEO AdvisoryBoard of DirectorsDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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Every year, Russell Reynolds Associates analyses the composition of management boards in the SMI and SMIM. Our 2024 analysis reveals some interesting trends, including:

  1. Despite excellent progress in recent years, women’s representation on the executive committees of SMI-listed companies is stagnating.
  2. Women are leaving management boards much sooner than their male counterparts.
  3. Sustainability is increasingly becoming a business focus, with 95% of SMI companies linking remuneration to ESG targets.
  4. One in five of the largest listed Swiss companies either changed their CEO or announced they were planning to.


Gender diversity in the SMI stagnates while the SMIM makes progress

In recent years, the proportion of women in the executive committees of SMI companies almost doubled – from 13% in 2021 to 24% in 2023. While this is positive news, our 2024 analysis revealed that, although women accounted for 39% of new appointees, 28% of the members leaving SMI executive committees over the same period were women. Including index composition changes, women’s representation stagnated at 24.3% last year (Figure 1).

Conversely, the proportion of women on SMIM executive committees has increased by 5.8% percentage points to 20.5%. While the proportion of women was still below that of SMI companies, good progress is being made.


SMI & SMIM: Number of former Executive Committee members by tenure and gender


Women are leaving SMI and SMIM executive management roles nearly twice as fast as their male counterparts

Women executives are leaving office much sooner than their male counterparts. While women who left top management roles in 2023 had been in office for an average of 3.4 years, the men served average terms of 6.6 years – almost double the time (Figure 2). In fact, none of the 14 women who left in 2023 had been in office for more than 6 years.


Proportion of female EC members by index


This is not unique to Swiss executive teams—we have observed similar trends on DAX 40 management boards, suggesting this trend may be occurring across different layers of leadership.

SMI and SMIM companies also follow similar patterns when it comes to the distribution of executive management roles, with women typically being appointed to head roles with an over-proportional share of women in the workforce, such as HR and legal. There are still relatively few women on SMI boards with direct P&L responsibility, and numbers of women CFOs are also decreasing (Figure 3). There have, however, been more women CFOs appointed in SMIM companies.


SMI: Gender shares and roles of female executives


As sustainability gains focus, nearly all SMI companies linked remuneration to ESG targets

The importance of sustainability in SMI companies continues to increase, with 95% of companies making manager’s remuneration dependent upon achieving environmental, sustainability, and social targets. This is a major increase from 75% in 2022 and 40% in 2021.

Almost a third of SMI companies have also appointed a chief sustainability officer – increasing from four to six companies in the past year. There is also a small increase among SMIM-quoted companies: one more company, or 11% in total.

This increase comes on the heels of Swiss companies setting more ambitious sustainability targets. UBS plans to invest CHF 400 billion in sustainable investments by 2025 and reduce emissions from its operations to net zero. And we are seeing these investments translate into corporate action.

For example, at Lonza, members of the executive committee are each responsible for delivering one of seven UN sustainability goals. The company also plans to increase the representation of women in management to 35% by 2035, and to reduce its industrial water consumption by 50% by 2030.


Massive shifts to CEO landscape

Our study found that one in five of the largest listed Swiss companies has either changed its CEO or has initiated a CEO change over the last 12 months. This reflects the recent trend of high CEO turnover globally. As a result, boards should be doubling down on their succession planning, if they aren’t already.

Cornelia Tänzler, Partner at Russell Reynolds Associates, suggests “the results reflect that during the pandemic, economic uncertainties and geopolitical crisis, continuity and stability have been paramount and firms have focused on steadying the ship. Since 2023, we are seeing companies recalibrate, turning their focus to the longer-term growth-orientated planning and anticipating major market shifts. Accordingly, Swiss Board of Directors are carefully considering whether they have the right leadership teams in place.”

To receive a more comprehensive copy of the study or to talk about some of the findings, please reach out to our team.




Corrado Menghini leads the Swiss office and is a member of the Board & CEO Advisory Partners team at Russell Reynolds Associates. He is based in Zurich.
Cornelia Tänzler is a senior member of the Board & CEO Advisory Partners team at Russell Reynolds Associates. She is based in Zurich & Geneva.