International Handbook on Diversity Management at Work
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International Handbook on Diversity Management at Work

Country Perspectives on Diversity and Equal Treatment

Edited by Alain Klarsfeld

Managing and developing diversity is on the political and business agenda in many countries; therefore diversity management has become an area of knowledge and practice in its own right. Yet all too often it is referred to as a unifying concept, as if it were to be interpreted uniformly across all cultures and countries. The contributors to this volume expertly examine the relationship between diversity management and equality legislation within the different participating countries’ national contexts. They advocate that such separation and sequencing between equality at work and diversity management is far from natural.
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Chapter 13: Diversity Made in Switzerland: Traditional and New Plurality Meets the Business Case

Julia Nentwich, Chris Steyaert and Brigitte Liebig


1 Julia Nentwich, Chris Steyaert and Brigitte Liebig Introduction Switzerland is an amazingly diverse country. With only 7.2 million inhabitants, it has four official languages, two major religions and 26 cantons as sovereign legal and administrative entities. A federalist and democratic nation based on strong liberal values, Switzerland cherishes its myths about its rural origin as it also plays important global roles. The conception of the nation as ‘unity in plurality’ is at the heart of its national myth and forms an important discourse that establishes Switzerland as a special case2 (Imhof, 2007, p. 36). It is in this sense – as a unitary and homogeneous national context – that Switzerland does not exist, but rather constantly has to be constructed.3 Despite Switzerland’s long tradition of dealing with diversity, the public debate on diversity in the work context began only recently. The idea of managing diversity is very new to Swiss companies, even though workplaces are very strongly gender-segregated, both horizontally and vertically, and the Swiss economy depends heavily on immigration. A recent study showed that 68 per cent of Switzerland’s top 500 companies do not measure aspects of diversity and that 80 per cent do not educate their managers on how to deal with diversity issues. Overall, the study concludes that diversity in Switzerland is undervalued as a business driver (Filler et al., 2006). Generally speaking, two different approaches to diversity issues are used in Switzerland. First, the narration of the nation as ‘unity in plurality’ evokes concepts of difference, privileging...

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