Why Switzerland ranks near the bottom for working women

Earlier this year the Economist ranked OECD countries on workplace gender equality. Switzerland ranked near the bottom scoring last on one measure and third last on another, pegging it as the forth worst place for women to work. Only Turkey, Japan and South Korea are considered worse. The index covers 28 of the 34 OECD countries – Iceland, Mexico, Chile, Luxembourg, Estonia and Slovenia are not included.

© Martin Novak | Dreamstime.com

© Martin Novak | Dreamstime.com

Why does Switzerland end up near the bottom?

Two things in particular drag Switzerland’s score down.

The index looks at the percentage of men versus women with tertiary education, the female labour force participation rate, the gender wage gap, the percentage of senior management roles held by women, the percentage of women on company boards, net child care costs as a percentage of the average wage, the number of weeks of paid maternity leave, the percentage of GMAT exams taken by women and the percentage of parliamentary posts held by women.

Switzerland is not too far above or below the OECD average on most measures but ranks at the bottom for female tertiary education. The percentage of Swiss women with a tertiary education is 12.5% lower than the percentage of men. In most countries it’s the reverse – more women graduate than men. The OECD average is 4.2% in favour of women and in Finland, ranked number one overall, it’s 12.9% in favour of women. Another measure where Switzerland sits near the bottom is the cost of child care. Swiss child care costs consume 41.2% of the average wage. Only Britain (45.7%) and Ireland (41.6%) are worse. These two things are largely responsible for Switzerland’s poor score.

And the good news?

Women are well represented in Swiss parliament. 30.5% of posts are held by women, placing the country above the OECD average of 27.1% and well ahead of anglo saxon countries like Britain (22.8%) and the United States (19.3%) but behind Scandinavia: Finland (42.5%) Sweden (43.6%), Norway (39.6%) and Denmark (38%).

Switzerland also has a relatively high percentage of women in managerial positions: 33% compared to an OECD average of 30.6%. These positions are less likely to lead to the boardroom though. Only 13.9% of Swiss board seats are occupied by women. The OECD average is 16.7%. In top-scoring Norway 38.9% of boardroom seats are filled by women.

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime.com

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime.com

While numbers from the Swiss Federal Statistics Office on tertiary education show a similar gender gap – 34.4% of women between the ages of 25 and 64 have a tertiary qualification compared to 45.9% of men of the same age (a difference of 11.5% in favour of men), graduate numbers for 2014 show women comfortably ahead of men – 59% of women graduated with a tertiary qualification, compared to 55% of men. This means Switzerland’s tertiary education imbalance is historical.

The good…

Scandinavian countries score the best overall. Finland, Norway and Sweden take the top three places with Denmark trailing in seventh place. Outside of Scandinavia sit Poland (4th), France (5th), Hungary (6th), Spain (8th), Belgium (9th) and New Zealand (10th). France has high female labour force participation (-8.5% gap) and boardroom representation (28.5%), but it scores poorly on parliamentary seats (26.2%).

…the bad…

Germany (15th), Australia (16th), The United States (17th), Greece (19th), The Netherlands (20th), Austria (21st) and Britain (22nd) are all below the OECD average. Germany does a relatively poor job of educating women, Australia and the United States drop the ball on paid maternity leave, Greece has few women at the very top (boardrooms and parliament) and a low female labour force participation rate, while the Netherlands and Austria have relatively few female graduates. Britain is dragged down by its small percentage of female parliamentarians and high child care costs (the highest).

…and the ugly

Frustrated ambitious Swiss women looking for countries offering greater equality would be well advised to avoid Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Italy and Ireland. Japan is ranked in the bottom five on six of the nine measures.

© Hxdbzxy | Dreamstime.com

© Hxdbzxy | Dreamstime.com

South Korea and Turkey are little better, ranking in the bottom five on five of the nine. Italy appears to do well at keeping women out of the workforce (third from bottom on labour force participation) while Ireland does little to help (second highest child care costs). Both countries have relatively few women in their parliaments.

More on this:
The Economist glass ceiling index (in English)

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