Swiss company leadership & the gender divide (2008-2018)

March 2018

Author: Florent Schlaeppi
Co-authors: Jacques Berent, Alexander Skumiewski

Data and new technologies offer a new perspective on the Swiss gender imbalance

Most readers will be familiar with the so-called “glass ceiling effect”, the metaphor describing the fact that, although women are well represented across the general workforce, several barriers hinder women’s progression to the highest company positions. In our study, the evidence for a Swiss “glass ceiling” is particularly glaring in Limited companies – where only one in six company Directors are women, and less than one in eleven Presidents of the Board are women.

Strong gender imbalances in the Board of Directors for Swiss Limited (Ltd) companies

In 2018 the composition of the Board of Directors is not balanced between genders; only 16.8% of them are women. Additionally, within the Board, the highest responsibility role in the hierarchy (the President) is even less likely to be held by a woman (only 8.9% of Board Presidents are women).

At the executive level (CEO, directors, authorized signatories), more leadership roles are held by women (25.5%) than is the case on the Board of Directors, but the same phenomenon appears whereby the highest roles are held by just 15.8% women, and lower responsibility roles are more commonly offered to women (27.5%).

16.8% of Board of Directors seats are held by women in Ltd companies

Business-Monitor, a comprehensive dataset

Business-Monitor collects data from multiple sources, including the Federal and the 26 Cantonal commerce registries. The data collected are then cleaned, normalized, and enriched using data acquisition techniques developed during the past 5 years. In total, over 10 different sources are used to build company profiles, on which research and analysis is conducted.

The use of Artificial Intelligence allows automated classification of the companies and the extraction of unique information from non-structured data, such as newsfeeds, social networks, and the companies’ own websites.

All companies registered in Switzerland are therefore considered in this analysis, including Limited (Ltd) companies, Limited Liability Companies (LLC), Sole Proprietorships (also known as Sole Traders), Associations and Foundations. In total, and considering the companies that were created or cancelled during the last decade, over 900,000 companies are analysed. For every single one of them, the database includes all legal representatives, leading to a total of over 910,000 people holding close to 1,400,000 decision-maker roles. These people’s gender is determined using a classification tool reaching a 99.9% accuracy rate.

This study is also based on data spanning from 2008 to 2018, which offers the possibility to analyse trends over the past 10 years. As such, and to the best of our knowledge, the dataset at our disposal is the most extensive ever used in the study of gender equality at the decision-making level in Switzerland.

Not all industries are equally represented by women

A gap between the total number of women workers and the proportion of decision-making roles held by women is observed across all industries (see figure 13). This is the case even in sectors where women are better represented than men (e.g. in Health services, Hotels and Restaurants, Public and education services, etc.). Indeed, in such sectors, women are still underrepresented in decision-making roles compared to their male counterparts. This indicates that glass ceilings prevail even in typically “feminine” sectors.

Many questions will remain regarding the reasons for which we are so slow in moving towards gender equality in Switzerland. The findings of our report should be just the beginning of a much broader conversation.


At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. We’re a network of firms in 158 countries with more than 236,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, advisory, tax & legal and Digital Services.

PwC Switzerland supports clients in the area of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in many ways: awareness training, business maturity assessments, inclusive HR policy design, strategy consulting and more.

PwC Switzerland also offers organisations the opportunity to be certified by the independent EQUAL-SALARY Foundation, which is a great way to demonstrate (internally and externally) that the organization provides equal pay and working conditions for women and men.

More information:

See the 2019 report