‘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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