Significant Steps Forward for Gender Equality within Swiss Executive Boards

Next Generation BoardsDEIDiversityLeadershipBoard and CEO Advisory
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Michel Roserens
February 02, 2022
3 min read
Next Generation BoardsDEIDiversityLeadershipBoard and CEO Advisory
Executive Summary
This year marks a significant improvement in gender representation within Swiss executive boards.
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This year, Russell Reynolds Associates once again carried out its annual comprehensive analysis of executive boards of 48 SMI and SMIM companies in Switzerland. 

Key takeaways include:

  • The proportion of women on the management boards of the largest listed Swiss companies has risen from 13 percent to 19 percent.
  • For the first time, half of the SMI groups are above the statutory gender benchmark of 20 percent.
  • Switzerland has caught up strongly in a European comparison and is just behind Germany, but ahead of the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.
  • The largest proportion of women on management boards is accounted for by listed companies from Norway, Finland and the UK.

This year marks a significant improvement in gender representation within Swiss executive boards.

Over the last 12 months, 39 percent of new appointees on SMI and 35 percent on SMIM have been women. The proportion of women on the executive floors of the 20 blue-chip companies on the SMI stock exchange subsequently rose from 13 percent to 19 percent.

Among the companies of the SMIM, which comprises the largest mid-cap companies on the Swiss stock market, the proportion of women on the executive boards also increased from 11 percent to 13.4 percent in the last year. 

Temenos, Partners Group and Zurich Insurance Group have the highest proportion of women on their executive committees. Three SMI and ten SMIM companies have no female top executives (15 percent and 37 percent, respectively).

While there continue to be few women on SMI with direct P&L responsibility, the distribution of roles on SMIM has become relatively balanced between the genders. Women in central functions are mostly responsible for HR and legal.

Companies are well on their way to meeting the legal gender benchmark

Our analysis further shows a greater number of SMI and SMIM firms are no longer far from achieving the statutory gender benchmark of 20 percent in senior management, which has been anchored in Swiss equity law since January 2021.

If this Government benchmark is not met, listed companies in Switzerland are obliged to state in the remuneration report to shareholders the reasons why the guidelines were not complied with and present measures for improvement.

SMI has picked up speed and at this rate of change would easily reach a proportion of 20 percent women in 2022. For every individual company in SMI and SMIM to reach 20 percent, 40 women would need to replace men.

This will also depend on retention. 67 percent of female Executive Committee members, who left their SMI or SMIM companies in the last 12 months, were in office for less than three years, compared to only 25 percent of men. Of course, the sample sizes are quite different.

Regional comparisons

In total, SMI companies in the German-speaking part of Switzerland have surpassed the required 20 percent proportion of women. 44 percent of their newly appointed top-executives in the last year were women.

SMI/M Companies in the German-speaking part of Switzerland have a higher share of newly appointed women on Executive Committees compared to their French-CH peers (39 percent vs. 31 percent). Their overall share of women is comparable.

Switzerland is catching up internationally

The SMI has not only made a significant step forward, it also displays the highest rate of change internationally.

With the new appointments, both SMI and SMIM companies have improved their international position in terms of diversity. Switzerland (SMI 19 percent) has caught up strongly in a European comparison, just behind Germany (19.1 percent), but ahead of the Netherlands (18.5 percent), Spain (16.6 percent) and Italy (14.4 percent). At the top of the compared stock indices is Norway (30 percent), ahead of Finland (26.7 percent) and the United Kingdom (25.8), where the proportion of female executives in blue-chip companies is already over a quarter.

Recruiting from abroad

With the influx of women, the executive floors of Swiss companies have become increasingly international in the last 12 months. Among the new arrivals from abroad, citizens from the USA, Great Britain, Germany, France and Belgium dominate. 

Of the 14 women newly appointed to SMI companies, one is a Swiss-American dual citizen, six are Americans, three are from the UK, two from France, one each from Germany and Italy. Or to put it another way: 92 percent of newly appointed women into the top roles do not hold a Swiss passport.

In summary

It has become apparent for several years that the topic of diversity is a high priority in listed companies in Switzerland. The boards of directors and executive boards are doing a lot to increase the proportion of women in the top management bodies. This can be seen, among other things, in the fact that last year four out of ten new appointments were women. 

This positive trend is likely to continue.