It’s International Women’s Day! And BSL has its finger on the pulse

Aileen Ionescu-Somers, André de la Fontaine and Jacques Billy

It is March 8 and it is also… International Women’s Day. And what a year it has been! With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements coming in quick succession to each other since International Women’s Day 2017, it seems that women’s rights and equality issues for women are riding a wave of global interest but also, hopefully, transformation and change.

Did you know that in the early 20th century, the trade union movement started marking this day, first using it in 1907 as a springboard to highlight the poor conditions of women workers in the clothing industry sweatshops of the time in the United States? In a case of “early globalization”, the day had been adopted far outside of the U.S by 1911. Today, March 8 day symbolizes the opportunity for women to share their equity struggles and celebrate breakthroughs on women’s rights worldwide. As we write, women’s marches are actively taking place across the globe, from Spain – where the mantra of the march is “If we stop, the world stops!” – to multiple other #PressforProgress March 8 initiatives – are an indication of an increasingly strong global push for gender parity.

Given BSL’s aspirational vision and purpose, BSL is keeping a finger on the pulse on developments that relate to the role of women in the workplace. In late 2017, Professors Aileen Ionescu-Somers and André de la Fontaine started work on a teaching case study related to the challenges of ensuring equal salary for women in companies. Did you know, for example, that women earn up to 18% on average less than men in Switzerland? Sensing this was a “hot topic”, Aileen and André asked themselves the question: How hard can it be to apply a fair wage policy between men and women? Surely that is both good for the company, but also for the well-being of the men and women that work there? It turns out that it’s not so black and white and there are plenty of obstacles, amongst which are lack of transparency and accountability, as well as fixed mindsets and attitudes.

So Aileen and André decided to carry out research and interviews with a view to providing a highly interactive solution-oriented case learning experience for our BSL students. The case study is currently being finalized and will soon be available for use in our classrooms. We need our students to know about and understand the ways and means of overcoming obstacles to equity between men and women, and certainly in cases where both are doing the same job. And since, “knowing what you didn’t know” is a first step to changing mindsets and achieving change, we look forward to deepening our students’ understanding of this topic. Watch this space for more news about our exciting case study!

But the real elephant in the room is the invisible “glass ceiling” preventing access to senior decision-making management and Board posts. Women are just not breaking through fast enough. Changes to the statistics are incremental at best. Our BSL Finance Professor Jacques Billy is Treasurer on the Board of Novertur International SA. NI launched a site in 2016 that published an insightful report this week on gender inequality in Switzerland. The report, published with the support of PwC, highlights sobering statistics on the status of women in Swiss based companies. Less than 24% of corporate decision—making posts are held by women. Less than 17% of Board posts are held by women. How can women break through this glass ceiling? Now that’s a good question for our students to get their heads around! Judging from global developments in these last months, women seem determined to get answers and close the gaps.


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