Gender Equality in the Swiss Workplace

Another historical moment was created in Switzerland this year as thousands of women started a strike to bring many different organizational issues into the foreground of public conversation. Discrimination, gender wage gaps and underrepresentation of women in the work force are three major issues in the Swiss workplace and many employees are fighting for solutions. While Switzerland is commonly viewed as highly progressive and economically developed, women did not win the right to vote until 1971. This is a surprising since four out of the five countries that are Switzerland’s neighbors have had women voting since the late 1910s to mid 1940s (Liechtenstein is the last country bordering Switzerland where women won the right to vote only in 1984).

From 1971, it took another 34 years before Swiss women received the right to maternity leave (98 days of leave were granted in total). According to 2016 statistics, the gender pay gap in Switzerland is anywhere from 12-18% between men and women in the workplace. ‘Equal pay for equal work’ is still struggling to gain a foothold in this country, while men continue to be overrepresented in leadership positions, vis-à-vis their numbers in the population.

Based on the information provided in the 2018 Gender Gap Report, Switzerland placed 20th overall on the list, with only one third of those employed in a position of status or power being female.

In addition, UNICEF has named Switzerland the least family friendly country in Europe. This classification was assigned largely in part due to the very short paid maternity leave period available for mothers, as well as the lack of available paid paternity leave for fathers. Furthermore, the cost of childcare is so high in Switzerland, that most mothers feel the cost to benefit ratio is too burdensome since their earned wages are higher than or at the most, only equal to, the cost of childcare.

Over half of a million female workers went on strike in June 1991 in Switzerland, which then prompted the Swiss government to create legislation offering paid maternity leaves and protection against domestic violence. Now, in 2019, women are striking again, this time with the hopes of securing attention and eventual legislation to protect themselves from issues regarding work, politics, discrimination and unequal wages.

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