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GW Research Team Examines Gender Equality in New Report
April 26, 2012
Study reveals women in Switzerland and U.S. face similar employment challenges.
A new report on gender equality in employment in the United States and Switzerland reveals women in both countries still face a lot of workplace challenges.
Released by George Washington, “Gender Equality in Employment: Policy and Practices in the Switzerland and the U.S.” features survey responses from more than 1,100 male and female professionals in Switzerland. Data for the United States were collected from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report was conducted with support from the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.
The data were collected by Michelle Kelso, assistant professor of sociology and international affairs; Naomi Cahn, John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law; and Barbara Miller, associate dean for faculty affairs and professor of anthropology in the Elliott School of International Affairs. The report includes their research in gender certification, successful childcare structures, part-time and flexible work schedules, quotas and mentoring. Click here for more information on the report.
According to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Bern, United States and Switzerland are often referred to as “sister republics” because of their collaboration in developing bicameral legislatures, constitutional documents and the systems of states and cantons, or member states.
Dr. Kelso said the survey questions were generated out of conversations she had with professionals in Switzerland during a trip to the country last year.
According to the report, women in Switzerland and the United States face some of the same challenges, including a gender wage gap and professional disadvantages with part-time employment.
Dr. Kelso noted that Switzerland is addressing the disadvantages women face in part-time work with new working models, including job-sharing.
“For me, what was surprising was to learn how many women in Switzerland work part time and that they have benefits and vacation allocated to them,” she said. “A lot of women work part time in United States as well but they don’t have the benefits attached.”
In the United States, women earn about 77 percent of men’s earnings, with the largest wage gap in the financial services industry. In Switzerland, women hold more of the lower-paid jobs, while women in higher-level jobs earn less than men at the same level.
Dr. Kelso said part of the difficulty in rectifying the wage gap is that in many cases, salary negotiations are private.
“You might not know what your colleague has as a starting figure, so how do women know how to negotiate if they don’t know what other offers are?” said Dr. Kelso. “If everything kept secret, it’s hard to know.”
Dr. Kelso said Switzerland’s Federal Office for Gender Equality has several online programs that show individuals how companies fare in terms of equal salary.
“Companies need to have talented women working for them, and women in Switzerland are more likely to want to work for a company that has equal salary certification,” she said. “The idea of certifications has been growing over the past few years as a way to entice women to better workplaces.”
Ms. Cahn said she was disappointed that the majority of Swiss men and women believed that gender is a factor in career advancement, and that they “overwhelmingly believe that having children will negatively affect a women’s career.”
The study revealed that while Swiss men and women are on a whole more supportive of gender equality than American men and women, 61 percent of men did not believe there were obstacles for women to reach higher-level jobs, while 73 percent of women believed barriers did exist.
Legislation that mandates a certain number of women in the boardroom was another topic in the survey. Norway is one of the few European countries that has such quotas, but the report revealed both men and women in Switzerland were against seeing gender mandates legislated into policy.
Dr. Miller noted the collaboration between the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Elliott School and Law School to complete the project, adding that GW student research assistants and scholars from Switzerland also contributed. The GW students who worked on the project include Columbian College graduate student Matt LeDuc, Columbian College graduate student Scott Grether and GW Law students Lindsay Luken and Michael Peters. Assistant Professor of Sociology Antwan Jones also assisted.
“The topic of women’s employment opportunities and constraints, along with policy opportunities, is one that has even wider research potential including further comparative studies with other established industrialized countries, such as Japan, as well as newly emerging countries, including India and Brazil,” said Dr. Miller.
The “Gender Equality in Employment” report was commissioned by GW Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa last year at the request of GW Board of Trustee member Cynthia Steele Vance, MVC B.A. ’79. Ms. Vance and other conference chairs wanted data to aid dialogue at the “Sister Republics: Building Bridges: An Action Plan for Women’s Leadership” conference held in Switzerland last month and sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Bern. Ms. Vance, one of the founders of the conference, attended as an ambassador of the university’s soon-to-be-launched Global Women’s Institute.
Among the attendees was Switzerland’s Federal Chancellor Corina Casanova; U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca M. Blank; Melody Barnes, President Obama’s former chief domestic policy adviser; Pulitzer Prize-nominated New York Times journalist Ann Crittenden; and former White House Director of Communications Anita Dunn.
“This conference proved once again that the glass ceiling, the sticky floor and the locked door are still very real issues for not only American women but our Swiss sisters as well,” said Ms. Vance. “Our report is a great example of the kind of high profile, ground breaking work that we will expect from our new Global Women's Institute, as we strive to become leaders in the issues facing women around the globe. I was proud to be able to represent GW at such a prestigious gathering of women leaders!”
Dr. Kelso, who presented the report at the conference, said the data will hopefully encourage even more dialogue about employment challenges for women in both countries.
“Equal salary is one issue that all of us can agree upon, as that is something both countries are still striving for. In fact, Switzerland is doing better than we are,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn on both sides, and a lot of takeaways the United States can concentrate on.”
Megan Beyer, chair of the Sister Republics conference, said the report was a “wonderful” resource for attendees.
“We wanted to make this year’s conference action-orientated and come out with tangible action items to improve gender equity in each country,” said Ms. Beyer. “I think the conference has created a lot of activity and having the report gives it such credibility. We were able to really get our arms around the problems and talk about how we can help each other.”
Ms. Beyer added that there is now a task force of Swiss women from the conference who are collecting signatures to put a referendum on the ballot for boardroom quotas. She praised the GW research team for their quick work on the study.
“For GW to have responded so quickly and with a deadline hanging over their heads, conducting a nationwide survey, it was wonderful,” she said. “It was the first time Switzerland had original data on a lot of these issues.”