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Women's Careers: Too Little Planning, Too Much Chance

Credit Suisse wants to increase the percentage of women in senior management to 20 percent by 2020. Three employees of the bank as well as an expert in diversity and inclusion talk about reality and potential, outlooks, role expectations, and departing from the norm.

It could be the Hollywood poster for a secret agent movie – except that the three main characters on the poster aren't tough guys or they're not carrying a gun. The three Credit Suisse employees, dressed in black, gray, and white, two in pants suits and one in a skirt suit, all with black high heels, are standing confidently and look toward the camera with determination. A modern bay window in the background provides urban high-rise flair. The poster was created as an analogy to another poster. The latter shows, in an almost identical pose, three footballers from the Swiss national women's team, currently taking part in the World Cup in Canada.

Women Leading

It is certainly no coincidence that the marketing experts at Credit Suisse chose a visual language normally used for male protagonists. The message is clear: women, you can do it, too! Although more than a third of employees are women, they only account for 10 percent of the Credit Suisse Executive Board. The percentage of women in management positions at Credit Suisse is to be increased to 20 percent by 2020. Christine Jordi, Head of Diversity and Inclusion Switzerland states: "To this end, the bank is undertaking a number of initiatives, such as workshops and mentoring programs for women, as well as the expansion of options that help combine work and family life, such as part-time work, job sharing, or home offices." Of the three women on the poster, Vinciane Richard (left), Sandra Hayoz (middle), and Carine Delaloye, the last two hold management positions, but all three are skeptical about part-time work and job sharing at management level. In their position, 80 percent would barely be enough, say Carine Delaloye and Sandra Hayoz in unison, while Vinciane Richard points out, that she doesn’t know any bosses in her work environment who have reduced to 80 percent. “Some have reduced to 95 or 90%, but that’s as far as it gets”, she says.  And her colleague Carine Delaloye adds: "Ideally, the life partner would be able to work part-time as well." The numbers, even though they are rising, are very clear. At Credit Suisse, as of the end of 2014, only 8 percent of men worked part-time while 24 percent of women did so. By comparison, the 2013 figures for Switzerland were 14.5 percent for men and 58.5 percent for women.

Turning the Logic Around

Gudrun Sander, economics professor at the University of St. Gallen and an expert in diversity and inclusion, agrees with the three women. A management position at less than 80 percent is almost impossible nowadays. Somewhat hesitating, she even adds: "The current situation being what it is, I wouldn't recommend women in management positions reducing to 80 percent." That is because in reality, the women would still be working full-time or more, often at night when the children are asleep. The reduction would merely ease their conscience in being allowed to leave the office a little earlier. In order to actually include more women in management, she challenges companies to do some radical rethinking. "Companies have recognized women's potential and want to employ them. At the same time, they are not willing to fundamentally question corporate culture, which is exactly what is needed. For instance, you could decide that there are no longer any full-time jobs for men or women; each full-time job requires new justification. Sometimes you just have to completely turn the logic around."

Career: Planning or Chance?

A recent study by the Swiss Research Program, "Gender Equality," shows that today's young women still strongly base their education and work decisions on combining work and family life, while young men are guided by the traditional question of which profession will enable them to support a family. "Such role expectations hinder the utilization of the available potential," explains Sander. Once a profession has been chosen, women and men also tend to follow gender-specific patterns in further career planning. Vinciane Richard, one of the three women on the poster, states: "I like my work; my biggest wishes are fulfilled through daily client contact and the pleasant team. This satisfaction is more important to me than climbing up the ladder at all costs." To which Sander replies: "Men engage in active career planning much more often than women do, which is also connected to deep-rooted role models." Women, in contrast, have often let themselves be guided by chance. However, is it worth it for women to acquire men's career habits? "That's not the point," argues Sander. Instead, companies should create more flexible career paths and offer roles that are compatible with different life phases, such as specialist careers in an expert function, but with no management responsibility, jobs for those returning to work or "late" careers." One area, however, in which women should definitely take a page from the men's book is how to make oneself and one's work visible. Sander encourages this: "Women, for once don't finish your work, and go to a drinks reception instead!" Such networking opportunities are often underestimated by women. Additionally, women should acquire the habit of presenting the results of their work themselves, instead of giving the opportunity to male colleagues.

Becoming Visible

One person who has learned how to become visible is Sandra Hayoz. In addition to her performance, it was also thanks to her courage and persistence that she earned her management position: A year ago, she was invited to lunch together with 15 other people and the Head of Private Banking Switzerland, Christoph Brunner. In her handbag, she had a newspaper article by Brunner, in which he stated that he couldn't find women to fill management positions. The meal began with a round of introductions in which the men all sold themselves very well. When Sandra Hayoz's turn came, she said: "My name is Sandra Hayoz. I want to be in management and corporate leadership, regardless of what I do." Brunner and all those present laughed; Hayoz took the newspaper article out of her handbag. She held it up and said she found it worrisome that those in charge obviously didn't know their employees. A few months later, she had her first management position. And she has clearly settled in quite well: The poster with the three women and Hayoz in the center now decorates the office of her team. One of her employees "improved" it by drawing a policeman's hat and sunglasses on her: "She's a cool boss!"