Research - 02.12.2020 - 00:00 

Leaders for Equality: executives exploit opportunities

Male executives champion gender equality: this is the simple formula to which the result of a nationwide survey among executives can be reduced. The survey is part of the “Leaders for Equality” project of the Research Institute for Organizational Psychology of the University of St.Gallen (OPSY-HSG). Male executives still continue to constitute the majority of managers in Switzerland. Their commitment thus represents an enormous potential for the attainment of equality of opportunity for men and women.

2 December 2020. A total of 1,190 executives from all over Switzerland were interviewed with an online questionnaire by the University of St.Gallen’s “Leaders for Equality: executives exploit opportunities” project in early summer 2020. 824 of them were men. The markedly high participation rate of 69% male executives was an indication of their great interest in the issue.

For fairness in cooperation

The questions focused on the very concrete everyday activities by means of which male executives are able to promote gender equality and to support and encourage talented young women. The answers made clear that male executives are specifically committed to fairness in cooperation: more than 60 per cent of male executives indicated that they did not make any pejorative remarks to women, and almost half of the interviewees intervened if any of their colleagues did.

The same number of men advocated part-time work, job-sharing and mobile work. Also, care was taken that men and women had an equal say in meetings. A majority of male executives indicated that they specifically looked for women in order to avoid all-male teams. Also, they specifically encouraged women to participate in management development programmes, and they were easily able to imagine directly approaching women for executive functions.

Supporting women in their career development

These results clearly reveal that male executives are aware that it is helpful to specifically support women in their career development. They are in favour of new working methods which enable the compatibility of family and work. And they prevent the still all too frequently observed everyday instances of discrimination against women in the workplace. In addition, there are hardly any activities in which the interviewed men could not imagine becoming active.

Male executives are extremely motivated to make a case for equality of opportunity in their company and in their executive capacity. This commitment is important for more than 90 per cent of the interviewed men since they want to create more role models in their companies and fairness constitutes an important value for them. Added to this, there is demographic change and also the positive impact on corporate success, which was likewise named as an important reason for their commitment to gender equality.

Enormous potential for equality of opportunity

Male executives still continue to constitute the majority of managers in Switzerland. Their commitment thus represents an enormous potential for the attainment of equality of opportunity for men and women. Basically, this is a view that is shared by women executives who were interviewed about the perception of their male colleagues. However, the women executives appraise their male colleagues’ activities rather more critically.

This is particularly evident in the obstacles that are perceived: men find only a few factors relevant that (could) deter them from championing gender equality. Women, however, more frequently see precisely what it is that could prevent their male colleagues from becoming active. Thus women are convinced that, in particular, male executives can be deterred from specific action by the conviction that women do not want to be promoted or by the impression that promotion would provide women with unfair advantages. Also, one in two women assumes that possibly men simply do not want a woman boss or are afraid of disadvantages for their own careers – all of these reasons which merely play a subordinate role from the male executives’ perspective.

Need for action is proven

The starting situation is also different for male and female executives in Swiss companies. Whereas men invariably give their companies positive marks with regard to fairness in promotion prospects, the situation is clearly more critical for the interviewed women. Women in executive positions feel less well included – a discovery which signals a distinct need for action in the corporate world.

The results clearly show that Swiss executives know why they advocate equality of opportunity for women and men and that this commitment pays off, also for their companies. Although there are hardly any activities to which the interviewed men cannot imagine committing themselves, the full potential is still not being exploited. The study provides concrete results for the first time with regard to the areas where Swiss executives can be trained and supported.

Toolbox for interested companies

In the “Leaders for Equality” project, innovative interventions and measures are being developed on the basis of these results and in cooperation with the project companies Helvetia Insurance, Swiss Federal Railways, Feller AG and Schneider Electrics Schweiz, as well as the Migros Eastern Switzerland Cooperative. In cooperation with the Schweizer Kader Organisation und with the Handelszeitung weekly business newspaper, a generally accessible toolbox for interested companies, executives and gender equality officers will be made available on the project website as from summer 2021.

A detailed report about the survey results can be downloaded from

Image: Adobe Stock / 1STunningART

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