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Handelszeitung – Too few female CFOs lead Swiss firms

Currently too few women grace the position of Chief Financial Officer in large Swiss companies, but hopefully change is on the horizon, Egon Zehnder consultant Simone Stebler tells the German language Swiss-weekly newspaper, Handelszeitung.

According to a survey by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, there is a female CFO at the helm of only 10 out of 192 listed Swiss companies’ finance departments, or 5.2%. Yet the proportion of women on Swiss management boards is twice as high, at 10%, the report states. 

So why are women shying away from the position of CFO? Firstly, finances are still seen as a male domain. Women are also put off by the level of responsibility that comes with the job. Crucially, companies need to offer better working conditions to female CFOs, including flexible working hours for working mothers. 

What’s decisive, however, is the company’s culture, says Zurich-based diversity expert Stebler. “Talented females want to work where they’re serious about promoting diversity.” Stebler deals with highly qualified female candidates on a daily basis and is familiar with their requirements. “They don’t want to enter a male-dominated culture.”

But those looking for female CFO candidates are facing a fundamental problem: there is a small pool to choose from. Men are twice as likely to study finance and economics, while women tend to study the humanities. To eliminate this imbalance, we need to start in the classroom, says Stebler. “You have to create an earlier awareness of which subjects will be important in future.” 

There are grounds for optimism, however. More and more companies want to move away from a purely male finance domain, continues Stebler. “In the last three years the demand for female candidates has increased enormously. In the meantime, companies that take diversity seriously cast their net over the entire industry or increasingly develop internal female candidates for the role.” 

Female CFOs may be a rare sight, but hopefully they’re set to become less rare in future. 

Constantin Gillies: „Das sind die wenigen weiblichen CFOs der Schweizer Konzerne“, in: Handelszeitung vom 09.09.2020

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