Swiss government backs quotas for women in boardrooms

The Swiss government on Friday embraced non-binding quotas for women on company boards and top executive posts at major listed companies, joining a campaign in Europe to dilute the traditional male dominance of senior jobs.

Women should occupy 30 percent of the seats on boards of directors and 20 percent of top management jobs, the cabinet said in adopting guidelines that now will be drafted as legislation.

It stopped short of imposing binding quotas used in other European countries. Companies that fail to meet the target would just have to explain themselves and outline plans to comply.

The law could have a significant impact in Switzerland, where few women occupy top posts in leading companies including UBS, Novartis and ABB. Efforts to use purely voluntary targets have largely failed.

The cabinet watered down initial thoughts of having 30 percent quotas at both board and top management level. “The situation at executive board level differs from that for boards of directors because members require more specific specialist and industry knowledge,” it said in a statement.

Sixty percent of listed companies have no women on their boards, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said when the government proposed draft legislation a year ago.

Women occupied just 16 percent of executive board seats among the 20 biggest listed companies in Switzerland, according to a study by the Swiss employers association and the independent wealth manager zCapital last year.

Switzerland’s Green party, which has long campaigned for binding quotas on company boards, has said the measure does not go far enough.

In 2003 Norway became the first country in the world to impose a gender quota, requiring at least 40 percent of public limited company board members to be women. Other countries, including France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, have followed suit.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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