Foundation boards reflect many of the inequalities in our society. At the same time, board members note significant diversity at different levels.
63,886 people in Switzerland serve on foundation boards. According to the 2022 Foundations Report, the vast majority, i.e. 92%, only hold one of the existing 70,043 seats on boards. The majority are men, at 68%. Men also hold multiple positions: 87% of those with five positions or more are men.
A majority seeking more diversity
In their recent publication ‘Diversity and public charitable foundation boards in Switzerland’, Laetitia Gill and Dr Aline Kratz-Ulmer examined the level of diversity in the make-up of foundation boards. The percentage of women who took part in the survey (47%) was an over-representation in comparison to their actual presence on boards. The study also shows that age inequality exists alongside gender inequality.
36% of respondents were aged between 50 and 59, 31% were over 60 and only 11% were under 40. ‘Interestingly, all age groups agreed that diversity is a strength,’ says Laetitia Gill. However, differences emerge when they assess their own boards: ‘the older someone is, the more diverse they believe their board to be’. This difference also varies according to respondents’ gender. ‘Unlike men, women tend to believe their board is less diverse,’ she says
Not an end in itself
A lack of diversity is also seen in educational levels. 79% hold an academic qualification. 15% have attended a specialist higher education institution. A majority of 73% would like diversity to be taken more seriously but, as Laetitia Gill notes, different kinds of diversity aren’t always easy to identify. ‘We mustn’t forget invisible diversity. For instance, it’s possible to have a board consisting of five people from Europe, from the West, with one member who grew up in Africa, another in Asia, and so on,’ she notes. Swiss multilingualism is another aspect of diversity that isn’t always visible. The group dynamic would help with decision-making. Diversity on boards, when accompanied by inclusive leadership, facilitates a stimulating and innovative group dynamic. She also points out that having a term limit (only 2% of the foundations that responded have one) helps renew and refresh the board from time to time. Laetitia Gill repeats one important point: ‘Diversity is desirable, but not just for its own sake. We consider it a way of making foundations more efficient.’
You’ve all answered our call on LinkedIn to demonstrate your commitment: we’re so grateful. The philanthropic sector is buzzing with energy. This diverse space is kept alive by individuals’ personal commitment and passion. We want to spend the next few months working with you, dear readers, to find ideas and formats that will enable us to drive forward the sector in a participatory, collaborative way.
‘As a trustee, I can help ensure that Swiss pension funds and private persons invest in truly sustainable companies and take the interests of future generations into account today.’
Trustee, Ethos Foundation
‘I’m involved with Fondation IdéeSport because its innovative programmes are developed to adapt to our changing society and make Switzerland a better and more welcoming place.’
Trustee, Fondation IdéeSport
By investing a considerable portion of their assets into a legally independent foundation, my parents created a treasure with unbelievable potential that I would like to develop and preserve.’
Trustee Werner und Helga Degen Stiftung
‘I’m committed to our foundation because we can improve people’s lives in a sustainable way.’
President, Board of Trustees, Stiftung Baustei
‘The positive impact that the therapy has on the children is so evident: that’s why I’m more than happy to donate my time and creativity to the foundation. I can see the advances being made via the collaboration with hospitals and therapists, which means my work as a trustee and with our operational team really puts a smile on my face!’
Vice-president, Board of Trustees, Fondation Art-Therapie
‘With my combination of knowledge and experience, and my desire to actively shape the future, I want to do my bit in ensuring that the city of Zurich’s pension fund can continue to perform the task it’s assumed for its members.’
President, Board of Trustees Stiftung Pensionskasse Stadt Zürich
‘The common good is often pushed aside in favour of self-interest, particularly given the current economic and political challenges. So it’s even more important to actively participate (as a trustee) in organisations that work to uphold people’s rights, develop their skills and support them with a focus on inclusion, as the HUMANITAS Foundation does.’
Trustees, HUMANITAS Foundation – jobs, housing and activities for people with disabilities.
‘Children, education, opportunities – all things close to my heart. The Pestalozzi School Camps Foundation takes marginalised children and puts them at the heart of what it does. These children spend a week living with and learning from the best in the fields of music, dance and science. The fact that the founder and managing director are actively involved in a rigorous and entrepreneurial manner, with heart and soul, is very special indeed. I am so grateful to have been able to support the foundation with advice and assistance from the start.’