«Gender Diversity» – Vision instead of repression

February 2020

Soon they will appear again, the relevant analyses on gender diversity at management and board level in the largest Swiss companies. Women will once again be strongly underrepresented, leading to demands for gender quotas at management level or even penalisations for companies with too few women in the top jobs.

Yes, there should be more women in top-level jobs. It also makes you wonder when in the very sectors with a high proportion of female employees, women are significantly underrepresented in the boardroom. Quotas and repression are not the answer, however. Instead, we need a vision based on the recognition that gender diversity leads to better management teams. A whole variety of studies have shown that mixed teams produce much more comprehensive and efficient solutions, and that companies with a high proportion of women in top management are more likely to deliver above-average performance. But we need to remember that for mixed teams too, the skills and qualifications of the team members, both personally and professionally, are more important than their gender.

As an Executive Search Boutique with a holistic approach, we don’t just want to fill empty seats. Our aspiration is to make a significant contribution to the further development of the company through the performance of the placed executives and the composition of effective management teams. It goes without saying that this includes increasing gender diversity. It is interesting to note that, without fail, the vision of efficient, mixed teams at the top meets with a positive response from our clients. The question of whether a board or executive team is ready for the integration of women crops up less and less in the course of our culture check-ups. For example, we carry out searches for female profiles more and more often, and it is sobering sometimes to find that the response even to extremely attractive positions is pretty average. This low demand requires corresponding commitment on our part to find talented women and persuade them to face the competitive evaluation process. And our success in doing so is clear for all to see. Depending on the sector, our placement rate of women in executive roles is as high as 65%.

Gender diversity through encouraging high potential and changing the culture instead of quotas and repression

We are interested in finding out the reasons why there are still too few women in boardroom positions. To do so, we talk to many men and women at the top of companies and with women in more junior management positions who could reach the top in a few years. The reasons given for the underrepresentation of women in management bodies are extremely diverse, making it hard to form clusters. While for many men the will for a career to the top is virtually preprogrammed, women are usually much more ambivalent. Without making any claim to completeness, here is an overview of some typical situations:

  • Well-educated women who combine work and family life – with many personal sacrifices and a daily organisational obstacle course – and who want to fulfil their professional potential. They are usually surrounded by an actively supportive family; whether it’s the husband making an active contribution to the housework or grandparents pitching in. They are not attracted by part-time work and – especially when they are younger – are not put off by doubts about whether their commitment to work is even worth it given the cost of childcare. They often encounter hostility in their social circle as people say they are putting their career ahead of their family. Many positive examples will doubtless be needed before social attitudes change, especially in rural areas.
  • Well-educated women who set aside their career for their family and only work part-time for many years, deliberately not making the most of their professional potential. We have to respect the fact that they are not aiming for a steep rise through the ranks – even after taking a break to have a family.
  • Highly-qualified women in executive positions who do not want to expose themselves to the political intrigues and at times rough treatment at the top and deliberately give up on climbing the ladder any further. The question arises here is what organisational and cultural changes have to be instigated to make a career something worth striving for. This is where we see the greatest potential for change.
  • Qualified women who do not actively apply for jobs but would like to be headhunted. This often goes hand-in-hand with a self-critical attitude where they do not regard themselves as the most suitable candidate for the next level of the hierarchy. The reasons for this may lie in their DNA or their upbringing. The important thing is that their potential is recognised and they receive individual encouragement and support. Here, too, we see considerable potential.

Gender diversity helps to make companies more competitive and Switzerland a more attractive place to do business. To achieve this, we need qualitative and not quantitative approaches. Let’s do it!

«Business Transformation», «Digital Diversity» and «Gender Diversity» are core issues for us: as a versatile, dynamic Swiss Executive Search Boutique, with added leadership consultancy, we want to take our share of responsibility for the successful development of companies in the digital age. Witena can be your sparring partner and has the enthusiasm and skills to support you in the further development of your company.