Schmidt Antonia
© PHOTO: Private Photo

Gender equality and gender equity in the eyes of two generations

Two generations, two different cultural backgrounds, two women – one from Norway, one from Switzerland – talking about gender equality and gender equity.

Photo: (private) Interviewed by: Sylwia Orczykowska, Brand Communications Manager at SheSkillz Global

The report from the World Economic Forum concluded that it would take another 130 years to close the global gender gap. What are your thoughts on this, Antonia?

Antonia: Guro, I must admit on the one hand, it scares me but it also motivates me to improve the situation. This is one of the reasons I co-founded femella – a Zurich-based non-profit organisation to establish a networking platform for young women. But also, other great initiatives are going on right now in Switzerland, even if they act slower than we could wish for. Yet, from a global perspective, the facts are not satisfying.

Guro: Norway, the country I come from, is more advanced on the topic of gender equality than many other countries, including Switzerland. I agree with you that 130 years sounds scary. It’s difficult to close the eyes and don’t see the facts. When preparing my presentation for a speech this autumn, I checked the Norwegian statistics. To my surprise, these numbers were another eye-opener for me, showing that even Norway is not as advanced as I thought. In my opinion, the main difference between Norway and Switzerland is men’s involvement in family life. In Norway, it is not a question if a man can stay at home with a sick child, and in many countries, including Switzerland, it is still not that obvious. What is your perspective on the situation in Switzerland? 

Antonia: I think that the situation changes over time, Guro. My male friends have a different approach and they do recognise the need of closing the gender gap. This gives me hope.

Guro: Yes, you are right. At the same time, I observe that gender equality topic is not exposed enough in Switzerland. Having the children come home for their lunch break makes it difficult for both parents to be at work at that time. The options for maternity and paternity leave are also limited. I am wondering when the politicians will recognise it and propose new solutions.

Antonia: For paternity leave, the politicians wanted more, but the public majority voted against it. I think that the mindset that changes in our society. My cousin in Germany, who is 35, took paternity leave because it was very important to him.  Another example is my former boss in Switzerland, who at the time was a member of the executive board of a bank. He also took time off when his daughter was born, and his colleagues at work supported his decision. Finally, another former colleague of mine regularly left work around 4:30 pm to take care of his young daughter. He and his wife both work full-time. When his daughter was sick, he often went home to take care of her, when his wife had to be at work. He joined our meeting online with his daughter sitting on his lap. Everyone in the team found this great, showing a proper degree of understanding and flexibility. Examples like this show that it is possible to manage both – career and family – and that there are already family models splitting care and business work equally. However, they will only become more frequent, if we discuss them openly. I see a big space for the development of this topic(s) in the coming months and years, Guro.

Regarding lunch breaks for children, there are resources to support this but it is an expensive and certainly not the ideal solution we currently have in Switzerland. Many men and women want to have both, a career and a family. In Switzerland, women choose to work part-time more than men. It is not only because of a child-care but also because of the salary level, which is statistically lower for women. In an ideal world, both parties should have the right to choose freely how they want to work and negotiate a fair salary. Looking at my friends’ group in Zurich, I have the impression that people are pretty open to equally contribute to family life and to divide care work. Some of my former male colleagues stay at home when their children are sick, and nobody is surprised nor astonished by this.

Guro: In general, my studies and career couldn’t have been faster in Norway if I had been a man. But, there were a few situations where I had to “put my foot down”. Once I was paid a lower salary than one man reporting to me, it was corrected immediately after clarifying it. How do you find it, Antonia?   

Antonia: As for my own experience, Guro, I cannot say that I was treated differently from men so far. My male and female colleagues were paid equally during internships.  Law firms, traditionally being more conservative, start to slowly adapt to the new conditions. A friend of mine became a partner in one of the most prestigious Swiss Law firms during the same year she also went on maternity leave, after giving birth to her first daughter. Guro, I think the new generation brings changes, not accepting the past inequality and demanding a new approach in the workplace.

From my perspective, there are many people in Switzerland advocating gender equality and equal opportunity. The mentioned Swiss Law company is just one of the examples. The pace of changes in Switzerland is not that fast. We are a cautious but thorough nation and this is one of the reasons for our country functioning so well. When we look at other countries, like Germany, couples can stay at home for nearly three years during their maternity or paternity leave.  I am not so sure that this is a good solution either. Since this may be strenuous and quite a financial burden, in particular for smaller companies.

Guro: Growing a family is demanding, but I do agree with you. I also think this is too long. Just imagine, a woman raising three children can have a 9-years long maternity leave. How can she catch up with the fast-paced modern job market after so many years?

Antonia: That is a very legitimate question, Guro. It must be very hard, and she might have to re-start from scratch because of the fast-moving working environment. I want to add that it really shouldn’t`t be a woman staying at home by default. Both parents should decide who does it if necessary. Gender shouldn’t be a measure here.

Guro: I could not agree more, Antonia. Please take into consideration that women also need to open up to this idea. I met quite a few women in Switzerland and Germany who didn’t let their partners take paternity leave or work part-time. That is also not fair towards men. Too few talk. about this publicly.

The system

Guro: After all that we discussed, can we conclude Antonia that this is a system solution that needs to be redefined, not the people’s views?

Antonia: If companies do not offer this support, people will rather leave. Yes, in my opinion, it is more a problem of the system than the people. However, Guro, I also know so many cool initiatives, for example, a co-working space for freelancers with a childcare service. This place naturally attracts entrepreneurs with children, showing that having a family is not a career obstacle.

Generation before us 

Guro: In Norway, the generation of women before me really stood up and did a great job for gender equality. Do you think, Antonia that the generations before you did all they could on the way of closing the gender gap or is there anything else they could have done differently?

Antonia: The differences are huge when I think about my grandmother: how she was raised and how I am. Look at the way her generation was dressed up. They always needed to wear a skirt. Today we have a choice and nobody tells me what to wear. When my grandfather told my grandmother to give up her job, she did it – it was not even a question for her to revolt. I cannot imagine my husband telling me I cannot go to work and me following his wish. It could be our joint decision but not just his alone. So yes, Guro, I definitely see differences over time and I see how much things have changed.

Guro: What about my generation in Switzerland? Let’s call them your mothers’ generation.

Antonia: The generations are very different when I think of my mother and my grandmother. The results from your generation’s efforts, Guro, are more visible to me.  After all, right now it’s your generation that is “in charge”. You are paving the way for us, younger women, by advocating and creating equal opportunities and conditions, especially in the working environment. Additionally, your generation has raised my generation to become independent and to pursue our dreams free of any traditional gender roles. My parents for example always told me that I could become whoever I wanted to be. They raised me to be a person, free to choose my own future – whether this means working in a corporate environment or as an artist, becoming a fire fighter or a mother and housewife. The choice is mine.  For me, Guro, it is exactly this mindset that my generation – men or women – are free to choose their future, that is the very important and significant result of your generation’s efforts.

The conversation with Antonia was so interesting. I usually say Switzerland is one or two generations behind Norway. This conversation confirmed my thoughts. Some years ago, I wrote a magazine article claiming that my generation of women “was sleeping in the class”. We thought our mothers did the job for us. In Norway, I always thought that the generation before mine had done a greater job regarding gender equity and equality rather than my generation. Even though it took a long time to wake up fully, all the initiatives now show that there is no way back to sleep anymore. SheSkillz Global is one of the initiatives established to empower women all over the world giving them the possibility to visualise their fantastic skills, experiences and competencies for companies, Institutions and organisations.

Thank you, Antonia for a great talk.

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