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Women climbing the Career Ladder in Swiss Federal Departments encounter Slippery Rungs

While the proportion of women in the Swiss National Council has increased, they’re still underrepresented in many federal departments. Even those seemingly balanced departments have a particular problem.

Visualized in collaboration with Haluka Maier-Borst. Read the article in German here. See a Twitter thread on the visualization process here

For our analysis of the Swiss federal government, we looked at the percentages of work hours completed by male and female employees for all pay grades in the year 2018. Each department has its own glass ceiling and women in the top ranks are few and far between.

After starting with very basic area chart representations we experimented with several other different visual directions to show the representation of women across levels and departments:

We ended up choosing a mix of two slight deviations of established visual representations: the strip plot and the bee swarm. As a hero chart, we started with the strip plot showing the lay of the land:

The percentage of hours clocked by male and female employees pro department pro pay grade.
1 being the lowest grade, 38 being the highest. The greener the pay grade strip, the more male dominated the level is, the more purple, the more female.

We chose to highlight a few departments further - those which on their face are doing a terrible job and those which seem to be alright. Little surprise for Swiss readers: the Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport has the lowest proportion of women (14% throughout all pay grades).

Percent of FTEs clocked by women (purple) and men (green)

In the same department, only 2 percent of the leadership positions (from pay grade 28 and up) are held by women:

Proportion of FTEs within a pay grade belonging to woman (the more purple, the more female dominated)

We went on to show four other departments and point out that even if there seems to be a good gender balance in some departments, women still struggle to achieve leadership positions at the top of the organization.

But when does the gender ratio become fair? 

There has been studies dating back to the 1970s about what ratio we should be striving for to create a fair representation of genders. Many say even just one woman can change a lot. One study often cited breaks down gender ratios in the following four categories:

Uniform groups are where only men or only women are in the group. Distorted groups are made up of 0-20% of one gender. Skewed groups have 20-40% of one gender represented. Balanced groups have 40-60% of one gender represented.

If we look compare the departments in the Swiss government across the pay grades for leadership positions, we have groups like this:

Full-time equivalents pro department, pro pay grade. Women represented in purple, men in green.
One dot represents a 100% position (a full-time position). Half-circles represent a 50% position (and so on).  

If you take 30% as a meaningful benchmark for the representation of women within a group, the majority of these departments don’t make the cut on the executive levels – only the Department of the Interior and the Federal Chancellery.

The Swiss federal government has set a goal of increasing the share of women in top ranks of each department but only at 20-25%, which they reached for the first time in 2018. For Barbara Gysi, the highest female representative of the federal staff, that's not enough. She demands the benchmark be adjusted higher. "If you set goals so that you always reach them, that brings nothing.”

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