‘We are not ambi­tious enough in this area’

Women work together for equality

Caro­lina Müller-Möhl is one of the most dedi­ca­ted and high-profile phil­an­thro­pists in Switz­er­land. The Müller-Möhl Foun­da­tion is active in the areas of educa­tion, local deve­lo­p­ment and the advance­ment of women. She sees indi­vi­dual taxa­tion as a major step on the road towards gender equality.

You have dedi­ca­ted yours­elf to gender equality for around 20 years now. You build bridges between diffe­rent stake­hol­ders and campaign for basic condi­ti­ons that faci­li­tate equal oppor­tu­ni­ties. Why is the Swiss taxa­tion system key for you when it comes to this issue? 

We want to get more women into the work­place and into decis­ion-making posi­ti­ons. Many years of expe­ri­ence have shown me that our current taxa­tion system is a major hindrance. Intro­du­cing indi­vi­dual taxa­tion for married couples would help our cause. It would be a real milestone.

What exactly would indi­vi­dual taxa­tion do?

If both members of a married couple with child­ren are earning, they will end up in a higher tax band and miss out on child­care subsi­dies. If they have a second child – if not before – the second salary will usually barely cover the cost of child­care. And that second salary is usually the woman’s. This runs contrary to my libe­ral econo­mic viewpoint. 

How so?

Working needs to pay off. If taxa­tion is based on the total of both sala­ries, this crea­tes the wrong incen­ti­ves. Indi­vi­dual taxa­tion also takes another factor into account. We are all born into this world alone, and we die alone. Gender plays no role in that. And a person’s civil status makes no diffe­rence in the end, either. This is reflec­ted in the fact that we all have our own pass­ports. I think a logi­cal conclu­sion would be that we should all be able to sign our own tax return, too.

Photo: Anne Gabriel-Jürgens

What effect would indi­vi­du­ally calcu­la­ted taxa­tion have?

Indi­vi­dual taxa­tion would create posi­tive employment incen­ti­ves. In 2019, we teamed up with alli­ance f to commis­sion a study with ECOPLAN. This showed what we could achieve by remo­ving the adverse taxa­tion effects on a couple’s second salary. We would be able to attract employees back to the work­force. The study says this could be in the order of 40,000 to 60,000 full-time positions.

Would this have a posi­tive impact on the shortage of skil­led workers?

Yes. Indi­vi­dual taxa­tion would make econo­mic sense. It could boost the economy. Having more women in employment would result in a better cost-bene­fit ratio. Switz­er­land has a heavily subsi­di­sed educa­tion system right through to univer­sity level. It makes no econo­mic sense for well-educa­ted female lawy­ers and medics, for exam­ple, to leave the job market enti­rely once they get married and have their first child. On average, these highly quali­fied women are no longer in employment past the age of 30.

Why is it so important for women to stay in employment?

For many years now, the birth rate has been around 1.5 child­ren per woman. In order for women to re-enter the job market at a later stage, it’s important that, where­ver possi­ble, they do not leave employment comple­tely and for an exten­ded period while they start a family. 

Contin­ued employment for women also redu­ces their risk of poverty in old age. It would improve their health, too – evidence shows that people in employment fall sick less often. 

How important are finan­cial conside­ra­ti­ons for equality in general?

Employment means earning your own money, gaining finan­cial inde­pen­dence and purcha­sing power, a better pension plan, etc. It’s essential.

What do you think possi­ble solu­ti­ons could be?

In my view, the solu­tion lies in joint action by diffe­rent stake­hol­ders. We all need to be pulling in the same direc­tion. The economy, poli­tics, society, media, culture and, above all, women them­sel­ves all need to be stri­ving for equality.

‘I believe we will only be able to achieve equality in future if the majo­rity of women fight for equality.’
Caro­lina Müller-Möhl

What role does phil­an­thropy play?

In my expe­ri­ence, the govern­ment and private busi­ness carry the main burden of respon­si­bi­lity. But chari­ties can raise aware­ness of important issues. They can act faster and with more agility. If there is no govern­ment funding available for a study, a charity can step in quickly and straight­for­wardly. This means chari­ties can draw atten­tion to certain topics and put them on the poli­ti­cal agenda. 

Is that why you crea­ted the Müller-Möhl Foundation? 

I see myself as a philanthropist – someone who cares about people. Fight­ing inju­stice and provi­ding support has always been my philo­so­phy. Which is how I found myself in 2012 acting on nume­rous boards. It was a comment by a friend that sparked the crea­tion of the Müller-Möhl Foun­da­tion. He said it was diffi­cult to keep track of all the things I was invol­ved in, and I needed to create an appro­priate framework. 

So you wanted to unite all of your areas of engagement?

I wanted to bring all of my commit­ments, inte­rests and colla­bo­ra­ti­ons with chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­ti­ons under one roof. And I wanted to profes­sio­na­lise the work I was doing.


Today, we are a team of four. And, of course, we also work with exter­nal part­ners, on things like legal matters, for example.

Photo: Anne Gabriel-Jürgens

You are active in the areas of educa­tion, local deve­lo­p­ment and work-life balance – women’s advance­ment, in other words. How did you find yours­elf focu­sing on these areas?

They were all some­what neglec­ted areas in Switz­er­land at the time the Müller-Möhl Foun­da­tion was formed, in parti­cu­lar women’s issues. 

What links the areas you are active in?

These areas go hand in hand. For exam­ple, offe­ring more exten­sive and better early-child­hood care and educa­tion enables a better work-life balance. That applies to both mothers and fathers. We backed this up in a study: when parents know that their child­ren are well supported and recei­ving a good educa­tion, they feel more secure. This is the basis for combi­ning work and family life. Educa­tion and trai­ning is also linked to local deve­lo­p­ment. More women re-ente­ring employment contri­bu­tes to more econo­mic growth. This boosts local deve­lo­p­ment and helps combat the shortage of skil­led workers. This, in turn, over­laps with other projects of mine, such as my work with Avenir Suisse. 

How do you support women who are re-ente­ring the job market?

The Müller-Möhl Foun­da­tion supports such program­mes as ‘Women Back to Busi­ness’, which is run by the Univer­sity of St.Gallen. We’ve been on board for over 13 years, from the very begin­ning. The programme offers a solu­tion to the shortage of skil­led workers, among other things. One answer to this issue is quali­fied female profes­sio­nals. This boosts regio­nal and local deve­lo­p­ment and contri­bu­tes to a healthy future economy. The programme is also available in English and is conti­nu­ally being deve­lo­ped. Soon it will be available online, too.

Has the programme proved effective?

Many women and mothers are looking to re-start their care­ers. But they feel unsure after having been absent from the profes­sio­nal world for so long. They may be under-quali­fied or not have plan­ned their career suffi­ci­ently. Or they may lack self-confi­dence and haven’t promo­ted them­sel­ves enough. Many women never find their way back into employment after having child­ren in their 30s. That’s where ‘Women Back to Busi­ness’ comes in. This high-calibre programme was deve­lo­ped toge­ther with Prof. Gudrun Sanders from the Univer­sity of St.Gallen. Over the last 13 years, the Müller-Möhl Foun­da­tion has func­tioned first and fore­most as a contri­bu­tor of ideas. We have inve­sted our time, opened doors, contri­bu­ted our exten­sive expe­ri­ence to the project and provi­ded finan­cial support. This is the foundation’s usual way of doing things. 

How high is the success rate?

Three quar­ters of parti­ci­pants successfully re-enter the job market. The programme thus makes an important contri­bu­tion to gender equality. Women can return to the work­place, fulfil their profes­sio­nal poten­tial, live inde­pen­dent lives and enjoy more secu­rity thanks to grea­ter finan­cial awareness. 

Photo: Anne Gabriel-Jürgens

How do they gain grea­ter finan­cial awareness?

We promote finan­cial liter­acy, i.e. provide gene­ral educa­tion in the area of finance. We encou­rage women to take an inte­rest in finance, and as part of other projects, we help prevent young people getting into debt. Finan­ci­ally inde­pen­dent citi­zens with entre­pre­neu­rial and finan­cial know-how make more deli­be­rate decisions.

What is your view on gender equality in the chari­ta­ble sector?

The sector is hugely male-domi­na­ted. Men make up 80 percent of manage­ment commit­tees. Around a third of foun­da­tion commit­tees are all-male. These decis­ion-making commit­tees – which manage billi­ons of francs – are in no way repre­sen­ta­tive of wider society. This will only change if people who curr­ently sit on charity boards elect women to those boards. This isn’t always possi­ble, however.

Why not?

Some chari­ties have statu­tes stipu­la­ting that donors be repre­sen­ted on the board of trus­tees. If the money comes from a private company with a male CEO and a male chair­man of the board, and one of them has to join the charity board…

It’s a struc­tu­ral problem, then?

Yes, very much so. 

How can we promote gender equality within compa­nies, in that case?

The important thing is to create the right condi­ti­ons. EDGE, one of our part­ner orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, is the world’s leading gender equality assess­ment and certi­fi­ca­tion body. Compa­nies can use an assess­ment tool to see how they compare to other compa­nies when it comes to gender equality. Areas of assess­ment include pay, promo­ti­ons and mento­ring. The tool also high­lights areas where there is poten­tial for impro­ve­ment. Busi­nesses that complete the process also receive a certificate.

The fact that there are still certi­fi­ca­ti­ons indi­ca­tes that gender equality is far from being a given. And yet diver­sity has been a hot topic for years. Are there signs that people are feeling a kind of fatigue?

The WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 ranked Switz­er­land 34th in terms of women’s econo­mic parti­ci­pa­tion. When it comes to all other econo­mic indi­ca­tors, by contrast, we are always right at the top. We are simply not ambi­tious enough when it comes to gender equality!

Should every stra­te­gic commit­tee include someone respon­si­ble for gender diversity?

That’s a good sugge­stion. Espe­ci­ally if the commit­tee and the charity wants to move forward and stay at the cutting edge.

Phil­an­thropy based on convic­tion
In 2000, Caro­lina Müller-Möhl star­ted the Müller-Möhl Group, a single-family office specia­li­sing in invest­ment. She crea­ted the Müller-Möhl Foun­da­tion in 2012. She was previously a member of the board of Nestlé S.A., and curr­ently serves on the board of the NZZ public limi­ted company (AG) and various other commit­tees. Her core values are perso­nal respon­si­bi­lity, inde­pen­dence, courage, tole­rance, justice and dedi­ca­tion. She sees hers­elf as a commit­ted citi­zen. She belie­ves in people’s indi­vi­dual respon­si­bi­lity, and in a libe­ral econo­mic and value system.

Photo: Anne Gabriel-Jürgens

In addi­tion to educa­tion and local deve­lo­p­ment, you are also active in the area of culture. 

We work with the Orpheum Foun­da­tion, which supports young clas­si­cal soloists. When I was first approa­ched, my initial response was that it wasn’t really my area – unless we were going to be support­ing women in clas­si­cal music. When we took a closer look, howe­ver, we soon reali­sed just how few of the top posi­ti­ons in clas­si­cal music are occu­p­ied by women. There are very few female conduc­tors and orche­stral direc­tors. You see far fewer female soloists on stage, too – despite the fact that, in prin­ci­ple, we all agree that talent is not depen­dent on gender. The aim of our fund­rai­sing concerts is to set a coun­ter­ex­am­ple by giving the stage to outstan­ding female musi­ci­ans. Because at the end of the day, we only believe what we see in action. Female role models will encou­rage female talent to follow in their footsteps.

The second women’s strike got a lot of people out on the streets.

The second women’s strike in 2019 demon­stra­ted women’s soli­da­rity. That really moved me. And it frustra­tes me when women say ever­ything is just fine, when they deny that there are clearly iden­ti­fia­ble struc­tu­ral obsta­cles at both the govern­men­tal and corpo­rate level. And then there’s the issue of uncon­scious bias. All of this conti­nues to prevent women being trea­ted equally in the work­place and enjoy­ing equal oppor­tu­ni­ties in their profes­sio­nal careers.

What’s your outlook on the future?

I’m hopeful that the 50th anni­ver­sary of women’s suffrage in Switz­er­land – which we should all be cele­bra­ting toge­ther – will give us the push we need, inclu­ding when it comes to intro­du­cing indi­vi­dual taxa­tion. I believe we will only be able to achieve equality in future if the majo­rity of women – and we are a statis­ti­cal majo­rity – fight for equality.

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