Closing the gender gap: a Swiss view at WEF

Women account for just 22% of WEF attendees. When will it be 50%? © KEYSTONE / LAURENT GILLIERON

On the sidelines of the World Economic ForumExternal link, IKEA Switzerland CEO Simona Scarpaleggia offers her view on what it will take for the global gathering in Davos to achieve a 50-50 gender balance among participants.

This content was published on January 23, 2019 - 11:11
Jessica Davis Plüss and Dominique Soguel-dit-Picard in Davos

Scarpaleggia joined Sylvie Durrer of the Swiss Federal Office for Gender EqualityExternal link, and Suba Umathevan of Plan international SwitzerlandExternal link at a WEF side event session on gender equality in Switzerland hosted by The Female QuotientExternal link – a female-owned business focused on workplace equality.

IKEA SwitzerlandExternal link is one of the few companies, globally and in Switzerland, that has achieved a 50-50 gender balance in management. Italian-born Scarpaleggia called for an end to the part-time work taboo, which she views as one of the key barriers to increasing the pipeline of young talented women. “In Switzerland, it is really seen as a stop to a career but we [at IKEA] see it as an opportunity…why should we lose out on talent?”

Under Scarpaleggia, IKEA Switzerland has established two policies that she says were controversial at the time. This includes two months of paternity leave and options for part-time work at all levels of the organization. She explained that these policies haven’t had any negative impact on the business and in fact, the company consistently ranks as one of the top places to work in Switzerland.

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A good year for Switzerland

Durrer argues that it has been a good year for gender equality in Switzerland. This includes passing the gender pay equity bill, which came three years after it was introduced. In addition to the Federal Office of Gender Equality’s work with the private sector, Durrer says that “it is very important the public sector shows the way and is exemplary”.

At the cantonal level, there is now a charter for local level governments to commit to pay equity, and all companies that receive a public contract must also respect this commitment.

Umathevan, who came to Switzerland as a two-year-old refugee from Sri Lanka, sees the key to advancing gender equality as unlocking the voices of young women so they can fight for their own rights. “There are so many stereotypes when it comes to women leaders. We have to break those barriers and that starts with younger women and young boys.”

While still a long way to go, Durrer says that the country is making significant progress and that her “biggest wish would be for Switzerland to win the race”.

WEF initiative on LGBTI Equality

The WEF has launched a new Partnership for Global LGBTI EqualityExternal link. The initiative aims to get companies to foster greater workplace inclusion for members of a broad spectrum of sexuality and gender-based identities. Multinational companies Accenture, Deutsche Bank, EY, Mastercard, Microsoft, Omnicom, and Salesforce are the founding force behind this effort.

No Swiss companies were founding members of the initiative.

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