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A very frank experience of working in a country where females got the vote in 1971

To start I originally only came to Switzerland for a year.  I then met my now husband, and we have since had two beautiful children.  To say it has been a journey is an understatement.  The percentage of women in management is in the bottom 10 globally. The figures went down from 22% of females in senior management in 2012 to 14% in 2013, (Grant Thornton International Business Report 2013).


My initial role was a contract for 1 year.  As a management consultant this was a great opportunity to work on something that I loved, and actually live abroad, assimilate into a culture instead of flying out to a client every Monday.  I did not factor meeting ‘love,’ so at that point I needed to find a role that extended past the 1 year assignment.  My initial client extended my contract, and as a highly qualified and experienced female finding work was not foreseen to be a problem, but then I was faced with issues that I did not anticipate.  I was a foreigner and a woman.

For some women research by George Washington University on Gender Equality and Employment this has had a negative effect on their career:

  • With the birth of my daughter my career was over. There are no part-time jobs for highly qualified women.
  • Since the birth of the children I work part-time…this naturally has an effect on career development. You cannot have an equally responsible position.

The CV Sift

A Swiss CV should have a photo, date of birth and personal information otherwise you are unlikely to get sifted.  These are recommendations, and then if you do stick to this guidance you may find your CV in the pile that says ‘child bearing age ’or ‘face doesn’t fit.’  I remember sending my CV to one company after a friend referred me, they said they loved my experience but I had not attached a photo.  As soon as I attached a photo, I was no longer a fit.

The Interview

The first time I got asked about whether I was planning a family, I was shocked.  I now do not have enough fingers and toes to count this question.   On a subsequent job search after my first child the new question was whether I could work and have kids.

Research by George Washington University on Gender Equality and Employment in the US and Switzerland shares other women’s experiences:

  • At job interviews, I was often asked the following question: on your CV, we found that you have three children. Can you imagine being able to accept a 100 percent [full-time] job?
  • Question in an interview: “[You] have children. Can you perform the requirements of this place at all?”
  • At every job interview I was asked, “And how you do it with the kids?” I doubt that [a] man must disclose this. I often have to justify why I work 100

The Job

So I did eventually manage to move jobs twice with 12 years’ experience, 1 degree, 2 masters and a doctorate in progress.  I had to take a lower job, and pay for a company that hired me for my attitude, personality; mind-set and they saw what my skills could bring.  For that it sounds strange, but I am grateful. I know they get more out of it, but I have balance.  I do wonder how many other women have to make this compromise and have so much untapped talent that they are underemployed, and how much more productive the economy would be if there was a different mind-set on females in the workplace.

The Child Care

Prior to the 20 week scan of my first child I was asked by a friend had I booked a Krippe (kindergarden / nursery) space. I laughed and said I haven’t even had my 20 week scan yet.  She said people book a year in advance.  I did my calculation and the last time I checked a pregnancy was 40 weeks, but yes the spaces are so limited in Switzerland, availability of childcare is an issue.  I didn’t want my child to just go anywhere.  I wanted her to be happy, in the end I found a space which meant that I had an additional hours commute before going to work.

I learnt from experience that a parent in Switzerland needs to be prepared.  During the pregnancy of our second child, we decided to plan for the kindergarten times of 9.30 – 11.30 and school lunch times of 2 hours at home.  Yes that’s right the concept of a packed lunch is an enigma.  We bought a large house so that we that we can have an au-pair.  We have no family nearby so it is essential    In addition my work has a flexible attitude to working from home culture which is not that common. 

In reality not everyone can afford these options, so it would seem the social and societal structure hinders a woman’s choice in working.

Research by George Washington University on Gender Equality and Employment in the US and Switzerland shares other women’s experiences:

  • Childcare is expensive, restricted in respect of available places. A 12-week school vacation vs. a 5 week work vacation is unrealistic for working families, unless better vacation programs are provided. School hours are also complicated. Part-time or reduced % [of work] to accommodate school timetables is not granted easily, and not for management positions.
  • Privately organized [care] means that a full-time nanny must be present. These costs are not now tax deductible by the state. I have always seen this as a clear disadvantage for women with children.
  • Worst discrimination factor is the cost of external [child] support….Means that working with children is not worthwhile.

The 1 day parental leave a father gets off work is barely worth a mention.


In my first week, I was told I was paid less because I was a woman, and why do women not negotiate more.  I had negotiated very well in previous roles, but there was a blanked ‘no negotiation’ from the person that was astoundingly uttering these words to me over dinner.  I did follow with my boss on this conversation!

I also have a close friend, who was offered a board position on a prominent Swiss company, but the pay was less than a man; she resigned.  Many of these organisations pay lip service to diversity and I see them as members of associations that externally promote diversity. 

Legally, in 1981, the Swiss Federal Constitution incorporated the notion of equal work for equal pay, and the first equal wage and opportunity law came into effect in Switzerland in 1996, concerning remuneration and promotion.  The law states that “employers may not pay unequal wages to men and women who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment.” Despite the legal framework for equality, women continue to earn less than men in Switzerland. In 2010 the female median wage was about 81% of the male median wage in the private sector, with women representing about 45% of the working population.2

  • [I] was a financial manager for big corporation for 15 years until 2009, lots of satisfaction, high [ranking] on the career level, never got a company car and earned a few thousand less than man in same position.
  • My boss told me during a salary negotiation that I would get more if I were a man.
  • While working in government, I knew that my colleague had a salary higher than mine…. we were hired at the same time, had the same training and same specifications. I also had the feeling of not being [offered] another job because
  • I was a woman, had to work with men (police). I had higher skills and better training than the man who took the job.

Financial Penalization

If you are married with children in Switzerland you are taxed more.  Yes that’s right.  The tax system encourages the woman to stay at home too.

The Shun

I have no other phrase to use but ‘the shun’ because in Switzerland you are shunned if you work full time with kids.  The ‘why do you work’ questions, and the distasteful tone that rings when people say ‘you work!!!,’ can at points become overwhelming. 

I appreciate every mother who chooses to work (stay) at home with their kids, to work for a company part time or full time.  All can be challenging and rewarding.  I use the phrase work at home instead of stay at home because for anyone who has ever done it you will know it is the hardest work you have ever done.  Ultimately it is about women having choice.  The frank reality is that the political, societal, cultural and employment frameworks as they currently are in Switzerland negates female choice.

Other countries have their challenges, but with females only winning the right to vote in the 70's the issues are certainly polarized, and challenge what needs to change.

This year I will launch WHATIFPA and the real difference to women will start on a global level.


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