SUISSE news Spring 2019
Business | Switzerland-Canada Comparisons
March 2019

Women in Leadership: The Gender Gap in Canada and in Switzerland

(Kurt Schläpfer)
In both countries, Canada and Switzerland, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. While women tend to be fairly well represented in service industries such as education, healthcare and hospitality, the leadership teams of more traditional industries such as manufacturing and construction are overwhelmingly made up of men. And often women are concentrated in management support functions rather than in leadership roles. As an example: Among the CEOs who lead the 500 companies that make up the "2018 Fortune 500" list, only 24 are women.

The Global Gender Gap Index as an Indicator for Gender Inequality

The Global Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) examines national gender parity across economic and political systems. Although the Global Gender Gap Index does not directly address the gender gap in leadership positions, it is an interesting indicator for comparing countries in terms of the degree of gender discrimination. To capture gender equality, a scale was chosen that measures how close women are to reaching parity with men. In the 2018 report, which includes 149 countries, the Global Gender Gap score stands at 68%. This means that there is still a 32% gap to close. To date, only the top seven countries in the rankings have closed at least 80% of the gap. Among them, the top four are Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland). Canada is ranked 16th on this index with a gender gap of 77.1%. Switzerland is ranked slightly worse at the 20th place. Its gender gap value is 75.5%.   

Statistics on Women in Leadership Positions in Canada and in Switzerland 

Various studies on the proportion of women in leadership positions appear regularly. The following three studies have been published in the last two years:
  • Egon Zehnder: Global Board Diversity Tracker 2018: Who’s Really on Board? December 2018
  • Deloitte Global Center for Corporate Governance: Women in the boardroom — A global perspective, May 2017
  • MSCI ESG Research Center: Women On Boards Progress Report 2017, December 2017
The following data are taken from the most recent study published in December 2018:




Public companies with a market cap

above 7 billion EUR



Boards with women board members



Total board positions



Board positions held by women





Executive board positions held by women



CEO positions held by women



In both countries, Canada and Switzerland, the number of women in CEO positions is extremely low. The same applies to executive chair roles. This has implications for the entire board, because companies with a female chair tend to have distinctly more women serving on boards than male-chaired companies. The percentage of all board seats taken up by women is also relatively modest. The statistics above don’t list that there are boards with only one woman. This is a concerning number considering that most boards have more than 10 members. To benefit from the gender diversity, boards should have at least three women.


The first country to impose a quota was Norway, which met its target of 40% women on boards of public companies within two years. However, it has not increased since then.

There are no gender quotas in Canada or in Switzerland for women on the boards. In Canada, however, a 50% gender quota for boards came into effect in 2011 for government-owned enterprises in Quebec. The Ontario government has set a target that by 2019 women need to make up at least 40% of all appointments to every provincial board and agency. It further suggested a 30% target by the end of 2017 for female appointments to boards, with the goal of reaching that number in three to five years. According to the Osler Report, the vast majority of Canadian companies have declined to adopt targets relating to the representation of women on the board or in executive positions.

In Switzerland, there is a parliamentary proposal to introduce a diversity disclosure requirement for listed or large companies. The proposal states that if the representation of both genders on the board of directors and management does not reach 30% and 20%, respectively, the companies would need to explain themselves and present plans to meet the requirements. If passed, companies will have five years following the introduction of the law to include these disclosures at the board level and 10 years for the implementation. The measures are not expected to be implemented before 2021.

For further reading

Other recently published reports refer specifically to the gender inequality in leadership positions in Canada or in Switzerland:
  • Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC), Annual Report Card 2017: Advancing Diverse Leadership on Canada’s Corporate Boards.
  • Osler’s Corporate Governance Group, Report 2018: Diversity Disclosure Practices 2018 – Women in leadership roles at TSX-listed companies.       
  • Guido Schilling AG, Report 2018: Transparency at the Top – The Management Boards of Switzerland’s Private and Public Sectors
  • Advance (Women in Swiss Business) & HSG (University of St. Gallen): Gender Intelligence Report 2018
SCCC Corporate Members
  • Habib Canadian Bank  (Subsidiary of Habib Bank AG Zurich)
  • Zurich Canada
  • Laderach (Canada) Inc.
  • Custom Spring Corporate
  • Rolex Canada Ltd.
  • Lette LLP
  • Swiss Business Hub
  • Roche Canada
  • Swissmar Ltd.
  • Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
  • Endress + Hauser Canada Ltd
  • Hilti (Canada) Corporation
  • Switzerland Tourism
  • Mazars LLP
  • Canadian Tire Corporation
  • Lindt & Spruengli (Canada) Inc.
  • Adecco Employment Services Limited