Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard has called for more women in top positions in companies – not just to ensure equality but also for economic reasons.
Leuthard said on Monday that women accounted for only four per cent of upper management in Switzerland and only one third of companies had a female boss.
The minister made the comments in front of around 200 businesswomen at the "potentiELLE" conference in Horgen, near Zurich.
Leuthard called for women to take a more active role in influencing their futures. She said that an average female voter turnout of 38 per cent as well as only 25 per cent of politicians being women was simply "not enough".
The number of women in the workplace also needed to be increased, she warned. At the moment around 50 per cent of working mothers were part-timers spending less half their week at their workplace.
"It is very difficult to positively influence one's career this way," Leuthard pointed out.
Women's knowledge and skills needed to be better used and this meant more female participation in higher education and training. Failure to make use of this potential, Leuthard said, would harm the economy.
The situation is critical, the minister added, because in 2015 there are expected to be ten per cent fewer school leavers. By 2050 the work market will start to suffer and demand for highly qualified staff will increase.
Switzerland could not afford to rely on migration and recruiting from European Union countries to fill the gaps in the work market because other countries would face similar problems.
Thomas Daum, director of the Swiss Employers' Association, who also attended the conference, said his organisation totally agreed with Leuthard's comments.
"We have about 60 per cent of women working, it's a very high degree compared with our neighbouring countries but we have a lot of women who are working part time," Daum told swissinfo.
"We have a lot of qualified women and we should try to have them as far as possible integrated in our working process," he added.
Leuthard said that it was in this respect that the government could make the most difference, by setting an example and improving conditions for entrepreneurship.
She cited the handbook for small and medium-sized companies as one step in this direction. This helps set out how work and family life can be better balanced, by showing that flexible work models can work.
Other examples were the SFr120 million ($100 million) extra credit for crèches approved by parliament last year and the idea of offering a voucher system to help fund external childcare.
Leuthard said that her own department would be aiming to raise the number of women in top positions to 25 per cent by 2015. That figure is around 13 per cent at the moment.
Big business commitments
She also called on CEOS and upper management to make their goals for promoting women known. Several top business figures attended the conference.
Daum said this was an important part of Monday's discussions.
"It is the first time in my memory that we heard some CEOs giving their commitment on what they would do to improve the integration of women within these levels of companies," Daum said.
"That's a good thing. Of course, the discussion has to go on and the participants didn't resolve all the problems we have - it's just one piece in a whole discussion that should continue."
The principle of equality between men and women has been enshrined into the Swiss constitution since 1981. Women only received the vote at the national level in 1971, making Switzerland one of the last European countries to grant it.
Federal legislation governing equality was finally introduced in 1996.
And although progress has been made, it is widely acknowledged that women still have a long way to go in terms of equality in Switzerland. Women still earn on average 20 per cent less than men and only 60 per cent of them work, compared with three-quarters of men.
swissinfo with agencies
25% of parliamentarians are women, up from 5% in 1971. Switzerland ranks 31 out of 190 countries in female national parliamentary representation.
In 2004, the average wage for a woman was SFr4,735 ($3,860) – almost 20% lower than that for a man, who earned SFr5,910.
Three-quarters of men aged over 15 were employed, as opposed to 60% of women. 57% of women were employed part time compared with just 12% of men.
Eight out of ten women who lived with a partner and had children described themselves as housewives.
The potentiELLE conference on promoting women's careers is the first of its kind, said Leuthard. Around 200 business women are taking part.
The aim is to hear about different experiences and to make women more visible in the working world.
It was organised by the economics ministry as well as several women's groups and the canton Zurich authorities.
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