SUISSE news Summer 2017
Business Ethics | Switzerland-Canada Comparisons
July 2017

Gender Equality in Canada and in Switzerland

(Kurt Schl├Ąpfer)
Numerous organisations around the world examine the status of women in different areas. An important player are the United Nations, as they have initiated the human rights treaty UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by 189 countries. Those countries are obligated to submit a report on all measures they have adopted to implement the Convention into their national laws and policies.

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes the The Global Gender Gap Report. Published every year, the current report analyzes the performance of 144 countries by comparing 70 criteria gender-related indicators. Interestingly, Canada and Switzerland are not on top of this global ranking list, meaning that gender imbalances are an issue in both countries. In the report released in October 2016, Canada ranks 35th and Switzerland 11th. This article addresses some criteria where Canada and Switzerland have deficits in terms of gender equality.

The gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is defined as the difference between women’s and men’s average earnings. While this value can be well under 10% in some OECD countries, Canada and Switzerland feature surprisingly high pay gap values with 19,0% and 18.5%, respectively. This means that women earn just 81 cent for every dollar earned by men. About 60% of the pay gap between women and men can usually be attributed to objective factors (education, professional position, professional experience, etc.). The remaining 40%, however, cannot be explained by objective factors and have to be considered as wage discrimination. One interesting fact is that female singles earn significantly more than married women, while there is no difference among men of different marital status. A simple explanation might be that married women are less ambitious in finding well-paid jobs than single women. Gender differences in earnings vary by occupation, with the largest income gap in health occupations, where women often earn less than 60% of a men's salary. Alternatively, for women in natural and applied sciences occupations, gender differences in earnings are generally very small.

Gender gap in political and economic leadership

In Canada and in Switzerland, women are still underrepresented in their national parliaments and in decision-making positions within the private sector. In the recent report International Ranking of Women (December 2016), which lists the representation of women in national parliaments, Canada and Switzerland are placed 63rd and 36th, respectively.   

In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau’s new cabinet has named 15 women out of 31 posts – an almost perfect gender balance. In 2011, the Fair Representation Act brought an expansion of the House of Commons from 308 seats to 338 seats, not least in order to achieve a better representation of women. There are now 88 female representatives, which is 26%. In the Senate, there are currently (December 2016) 22 vacancies. Of the 83 remaining senators, 30 are women, representing 36%. In 710 Canadian companies, the proportion of women on their boards is 12%. 

In the Swiss Federal Parliament, women occupy 64 of the 200 seats of the Lower House (Nationalrat) which is 32%. In the Upper House (Ständerat) are only 7 female representatives out of 46 seats. In the executive boards of 107 Swiss companies, only 8% are women. Among senior managers, 15% are women, and among middle managers, it is 23%. 

Quotas for women   

In the political world, quotas may ensure that the parliament better reflects the gender distribution in the population. In private companies, however, the situation is different, because board members and top executives require specific experience and knowledge. In 2003, Norway became the first country to impose a gender quota, requiring that at least 40% of board members of listed companies are women. Other countries, including France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany followed.

There are no quotas in Canada at the national or sub-national level to promote women's political participation. Two political parties have adopted voluntary quotas: the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party of Canada. The government of Ontario recently announced gender quotas for provincial boards. It wants private companies to follow over the next five years. The Ontario government set a target that, by 2019, women make up at least 40% in every provincial board and agency.   

In 2000 a referendum in Switzerland demanding constitutional quotas for women in the parliament and in federal authorities was rejected by the vast majority of voters. In December 2015, the Swiss federal government announced that it intends to propose to Parliament non-binding quotas for women on company boards and top executive posts at major listed companies. According to the government, women will occupy 30% of the seats on boards of directors and 20% of top management jobs. Companies failing to meet the target will have to explain themselves and outline plans to comply. This proposal will now be forwarded to the Federal Parliament and may become an issue for a national referendum.   

Maternity and parental leave   

Almost every country around the world has adopted some type of legislation for maternity protection. This comprises a maternity leave and less often a paternity and/or parental leave. 183 countries currently provide cash benefits during maternity leave. However, benefits in many countries are neither generous nor do they last sufficiently long.   

Paid maternity leave was introduced in Canada in 1971. In 1990, parental leave was added and increased in 2000. Since then, a further improvement has been discussed on a regular basis. Prime Minister Trudeau promised: "We will introduce more flexible parental benefits that will make it possible for parents to take a longer leave – up to 18 months." Soon after, more than 60,000 people have signed a petition demanding the government to fulfill its election promise of extending Canada's parental leave to 18 months. Maternity benefits are paid to the mother for a maximum of 15 weeks. Paternal benefits are available to either parent, or split between them, to a combined maximum of 35 weeks. So if the father remains at work, the mother could receive 50 weeks of payments. The maternity and parental benefits are paid through the Employment Insurance (EI) program. A mother or father will receive 55% of the average salary, up to a maximum weekly payment of $ 543 (as of January 1, 2017).   

In Switzerland, the maternity leave was introduced in 2005 and lasts 14 weeks. Mothers are paid at 80% of their average salary, up to a maximum payment of CHF 196 per day (CHF 1,372 per week). This is – compared with Canada and other countries – a relatively generous solution. Switzerland, however, has no statutory paternity leave, though fathers are allowed one or two days for the birth of their child. This makes Switzerland an exception compared to many other countries. Over the past years several politicians and lobby groups have tried to put the issue on the political table, but with little effect. Last year, the Lower House (Nationalrat) rejected a motion to grant fathers two weeks statutory paternity leave.            

Gender equality indicators for Canada and Switzerland at a glance

SCCC Corporate Members
  • Zurich Canada
  • Laderach (Canada) Inc.
  • Custom Spring Corporate
  • Rolex Canada Ltd.
  • Lette LLP
  • Roche Canada
  • Swissmar Ltd.
  • Switzerland Tourism
  • Swiss Business Hub
  • Endress + Hauser Canada Ltd
  • Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
  • Habib Canadian Bank  (Subsidiary of Habib Bank AG Zurich)
  • Hilti (Canada) Corporation
  • Mazars LLP
  • Canadian Tire Corporation