"Raven Mothers" struggle on Swiss corporate ladder

Mon Mar 8, 2010 2:58pm EST
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By Catherine Bosley

ZURICH (Reuters Life!) - Women hold the top three jobs in Swiss politics for the first time, but mothers who have careers are still criticized in a country where women have only been able to vote in national elections since 1971.

Some newspapers hailed the rise of three women to the posts of president and speakers of both parliamentary houses this year as a sign of progress.

But critics say the trio's success is unusual in Switzerland, where women face more barriers to full-time careers than elsewhere in Europe and working mothers are often labeled "Rabenmutter" or Raven Mother, a term used for those who neglect their children.

"In Switzerland, there's a relatively conservative social image of women's roles and motherhood," said Irene Kriesi, a sociologist at the University of Zurich.

"Many people -- even among the younger generation -- are convinced that children will suffer if they are not taken care of pretty much exclusively by their mothers," she said. "There's constant pressure. A mum who works quite a bit always has to justify herself to others."

Switzerland, where the foreign and justice ministers are also women, ranks 27th globally in the percentage of female MPs, ahead of Austria, Canada, Britain and France, the Interparliamentary Union said.

However, it lags the Scandinavian countries, Britain, Austria, Germany and France in the number of women on company boards, the European Professional Women's Network said according to its 2008 data. It also said that about half the female board members of Swiss companies were foreigners.

Among the hurdles Swiss career mothers face are state schools with long, unsupervised lunch breaks, statutory paid maternity leave that is among the shortest in Europe, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), and a tax system with a "marriage penalty" that discourages a second household wage earner.   Continued...

<p>Swiss President and Economy Minister Doris Leuthard (R) speaks next to Swiss Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter during a news conference after Switzerland's popular votes, in Bern March 7, 2010. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer</p>