More female role models are needed

More women are making it to top management positions. But they don't stay there for long

First published in Aargauer Zeitung on 9 April 2024

The proportion of women in top jobs in Switzerland has been rising steadily for years, meeting the legal requirements for management boards and boards of directors of listed companies for the first time. However, women only remain in top management positions for a short time. What needs to change for this to happen? A transatlantic perspective.

For the past five years, I have been living in Basel. I grew up in Uruguay and later studied in the USA, Italy, and Spain. My experiences as a female leader in Switzerland have been very positive. However, I see that it is difficult for many Swiss women to balance their careers and family life. These cultural differences compared to other countries where I have lived have surprised me.

For example, many women in Switzerland work part-time with a low work pattern, particularly after having children, this makes it more difficult for them to rise to senior management positions, inadvertently negatively impacting their future pensions. Also, when Swiss women resume full-time work or they return with a high work dedication after maternity leave they often encounter scepticism. There is also a relatively short legal maternity leave offered in Switzerland compared to other similar economically developed countries in Europe, and of similar length if compared to my home country. I have been asking myself how all these cultural differences could affect the presence of Swiss women in senior leadership positions, and how I can personally make a difference on this.

My personal journey started more than 25 years ago, when I joined Deloitte in Uruguay. I didn't have any female role models in the business world at that time, but I did have senior male leaders who actively sponsored and mentored me from an early start. As I continued developing my international career at Deloitte, I also found female mentors in the global Deloitte network who inspired me to go above and beyond. In the last five years, I took on two leadership positions, the last one as a member of the Management Executive Team.

My professional drive has also been shaped by my mother, an entrepreneur, who taught me early on the importance of financial independence as a woman. Today, as a mother of an eleven-year-old daughter who is growing up in Basel, I am trying to follow up on those steps and be a positive role model not only for her but also for other women, showing what could be achieved in the corporate world. Female role models in senior leadership positions can amplify the impact, sponsoring and mentoring more female talent in their careers. I hope that a woman will soon become CEO of an SMI company, as this would send out an important signal of progress in this direction.

Our new study, "Women in the Boardroom", shows that the proportion of women on the executive boards and boards of directors of the largest Swiss companies has risen to 27 per cent. That is good news! However, women remain in such positions for much shorter periods than men. This shorter tenure has also been confirmed by a different study for the executive boards and board of directors of Swiss companies. The new challenge now lies in sustaining female leadership positions where women can flourish and significantly influence their companies' strategies. This calls for a more inclusive environment where women feel fully integrated and identify with the culture and the goals of the within leadership committees.

Is it time for a cultural change? We all have a role to play. I personally will dedicate myself to nurture a culture within our company that wholeheartedly supports and champions the career ambitions of women. Our study and my own experience tell me that there is a clear need for more women to rise to top jobs and then stay there. Organisations can help to achieve this by providing flexibility in the workplace, ensuring equal pay, actively sponsoring, and mentoring female talent and by developing an inclusive corporate culture to foster retention.

We, as women in senior management roles, must contribute by being visible role models for the next generation of female talent in Switzerland.

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