Whitepaper for International Women's Day: unlocking Switzerland's tech potential through female talent

| Press Release

Women are still significantly underrepresented in technology-related professions. In Europe, women on average hold only 22% of tech positions, while in the Swiss tech sector, the proportion of women does not differ significantly at 25%. Based on an expert discussion during the digitalswitzerland "World Café" in Davos in January 2024 and taking into account McKinsey & Company studies, as well as interviews with experts, and the "Gender Intelligence Report" by the Competence Centre for Diversity & Inclusion at the University of St.Gallen and Advance (which draws on a data set of 20 Swiss tech companies with a total workforce of over 50,000 employees), the white paper "The unseen code: Unlocking Switzerland's female tech potential" sheds light on the untapped potential of women in tech professions.

According to McKinsey’s analysis in the European "Women in Tech" report, the sustainable inclusion of women is crucial to counteract the shortage of skilled workers, strengthen the competitiveness of technology companies, and have a positive long-term impact on the economy. Increasing the proportion of women in tech roles can be increased to 45% by 2027 Europe's GDP of as much as EUR 260 billion to EUR 600 billion. An in-depth analysis of the Swiss tech sector dataset shows that women make up only about one-third of non-managerial positions, and that this underrepresentation becomes more pronounced as the hierarchy level increases. In management positions, the percentage of women in junior management roles in Swiss technology organisations is just over one-fifth (21%), while the percentage of female senior managers is even lower (18%). Focusing on the Swiss market, the whitepaper therefore identifies recommendations for action in four areas: corporate culture, talent retention, transfer of qualified women into tech fields, and school and university educational opportunities to support their journey through the talent pipeline.

Anna Mattsson, co-author of the whitepaper and Partner at McKinsey, explains: "The solutions to attract, develop and retain women in tech are right in front of us. We just need to be aware of that. By investing in the talent pool and implementing targeted measures, this potential can be fully realized, leading to a more sustainable development of the Swiss economy.
In other words, diversity in tech can be a competitive advantage." Nicole Niedermann, a member of the management team at the Competence Centre for Diversity & Inclusion at the University of St.Gallen, suggests: "With a higher proportion of women, the tech sector would be more innovative. Currently, women are either not choosing to enter this industry or leaving it soon after. They are clearly underrepresented and therefore lack the necessary influence on the corporate culture. To fully utilize the potential of women, tech companies should aim for a critical mass of 30%. To bring about change, leadership and processes, as well as meeting rituals, language style, and the symbols used in a company must be rethought."

Astrid Savouré-Mondésert, Lead Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at digitalswitzerland, emphasizes: "Education, skilled workers and diversity are important for developing Switzerland into a leading digital innovation location. The authors have identified four key areas of action that could significantly reduce the existing representation imbalance in the tech sector." The recommendations include:

Reframing - creating a corporate culture that promotes women: Companies need to minimise gender-related barriers and ensure a sense of belonging and appreciation. Initiatives for an inclusive work environment could include the use of technology tools throughout career management to counteract unconscious bias, but also the introduction of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I)-specific policies, training, and data-based targets that would enable clear accountability and progress review.

Talent retention - keeping women in tech roles: Key factors include equal pay, which can be verified using tools like "Logib", provided free of charge by the federal government, or certified by independent labels based on standardised procedures. Additionally, transparency about development opportunities and requirements, as well as scrutiny of selection and success criteria, is necessary at all career levels. In addition, having visible female role models and effective sponsorship, beyond just mentoring by male managers, can also be impactful. Based on observed promotion practices, this is especially crucial at the junior and middle management levels. To retain women in the (tech) workforce, it is important to provide appropriate support during certain life stages (e.g. parenthood).

Redeployment - adding talented or qualified but previously non-specialist women to the tech talent pool: Unconventional approaches to closing the tech talent gap should also be considered. For example, the retraining of women with a STEM background who are not currently working in technical professions or the further training of women without a STEM background who are currently working in non-technical professions but have the necessary potential.

Education - enabling women to enter the labour market and securing the talent pipeline:  The transition from school to university or from an academic environment to the world of work is a critical point at which a large proportion of women drop out of the talent pool. After primary and secondary school, the number of women interested in and qualified to study STEM decreases. Only one in three STEM bachelor's degrees in the EU is awarded to women (32%), and fewer women (38%) than men obtain master's degrees. The industry loses a significant number of female STEM graduates. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize early inspiration by collaborating with schools (initiatives, e.g. hackathons for young schoolgirls and future days for girls in technology organisations). Additionally, utilizing diverse communication channels and creating appealing entry-level positions for women can also be effective.

The findings suggest that addressing structural factors is necessary to make the tech industry more attractive to female talent, and this requires measures beyond the private sector. All affected stakeholders and interest groups (e.g. the Swiss education system, associations, and foundations) can contribution through appropriate actions and support programs to ensure more women find their place in the Swiss tech industry in the future.

The whitepaper is available for download here.

About McKinsey
McKinsey is a global management consulting firm that helps organisations achieve sustainable, inclusive growth. We work with clients in the private, public and social sectors to solve complex problems and create positive change for all stakeholders. We combine bold strategies and transformative technologies to help organisations make innovation more sustainable, achieve lasting performance improvements and build workforces that will thrive for this generation and the next. In Switzerland, McKinsey has offices in Zurich and Geneva. Worldwide, McKinsey teams work in more than 130 cities and 65 countries. McKinsey was founded in 1926 and the first Swiss office opened in 1961. Bob Sternfels has been Global Managing Partner since 2021. Managing Partner for Switzerland since 2022 is Michael Steinmann. 


Yannick Orto, Head of Communications Switzerland