Ramona Urwyler: Making women visible for boards of directors

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Portrait of Ramona Urwyler
Portrait of Ramona Urwyler

Ramona Urwyler, a hotel manager, is convinced that more women are needed on Swiss boards of directors. A further education course at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts laid the foundation for her to found an association for the promotion of women on boards of directors together with five female comrades-in-arms.

Ramona Urwyler has never shied away from management tasks. As a graduate of the Hotel Management School Lucerne SHL, she was entrusted with the management of employees early in her professional career - for example, as Chef de Bar in a Lucerne restaurant, or as General Manager of a restaurant in Geelong, Australia.

Something for the head

After a few years in the classic hotel business, she moved to the patient hotel business at the University Hospital Zurich as a group manager and finally in 2017 to the Zurich Schulthess Clinic, one of the leading orthopedic clinics in Switzerland. There, she now leads a team of 120 as area manager for hospitality. In the healthcare sector, where the focus is on medical care, it is particularly important to approach hospitality processes in a prudent and empathetic manner and to work across a wide range of disciplines, says Ramona Urwyler.

After three years in the clinic, the 39-year-old decided to pursue further education: "I wanted to do something for my head again and for my further development as a manager," says the area manager, explaining her decision. Some of her former fellow students at the Lucerne Hotel Management School recommended the Executive MBA Lucerne (EMBA) program at the HSLU’s Department of Economics. So Urwyler, who grew up in Basel and has been living in Zurich for some time, was drawn to Central Switzerland again for training.

Diversity is needed

The EMBA course also includes a module on board management. This activity is still firmly in male hands in Switzerland - according to the Diversity Report Switzerland, 80.6 percent in 2022. For Ramona Urwyler, who already completed her initial training and now also her advanced training in a class with a high proportion of women, this imbalance is disturbing. In order to run a company successfully, she is convinced that more diversity is needed on the board of directors these days: "That means more women, but also diversity in terms of the age, origin and industry of the board members. Because you need people with different points of view, who can also sometimes lead unpleasant discussions and thus take into account the most diverse perspectives."

The hotel manager sees a significant reason why the composition of boards of directors is changing only very slowly: "The procurement of board mandates very often runs through personal networks. If these consist mainly of men, it is difficult to find suitable female candidates, even for companies that explicitly want to assign women to a mandate."

At another training session, Urwyler met a participant who belongs to a women’s network at the University of Applied Sciences of Eastern Switzerland. They agreed: The proportion of women on boards of directors should increase more quickly. Because Urwyler prefers to tackle problems rather than just talk about them, she and five other co-founders launched the "Women for the Board" association in 2021 to promote women on boards of directors. The idea behind it: Women who want to serve on boards of directors should be able to present themselves on a digital platform.

Daily requests from women

In June 2022, the association’s website went online. Women who want to appear there pay 50 francs for membership. "Our platform is meant to be simple and not cost a lot," Urwyler explains. Potential female candidates are screened by the association’s eight-person onboarding team. The profiles can be viewed free of charge. Anyone who wants to get in touch with one of the women does so directly via her LinkedIn profile. The association itself does not take on any active placement role, but rather provides a publicly accessible database with the platform.

The goal for the first year was to build up an initial pool of candidates. At the beginning, there was an exchange with a well-known recruiter, but he didn’t think their idea had too much of a chance, Urwyler says. "He said, ’If you have a pool of 50 women or more, you’re relevant for Switzerland.’" If this definition is anything to go by, just six months later the relevance of the platform was undisputed: Currently, even more than 100 competent women of different ages, from different industries and diverse backgrounds present themselves on the website. "About 20 of them are currently in a job application process, and every day we receive five to ten inquiries from women who want to join us," says Urwyler. She herself also has a profile on Women for the Board and sits on the advisory board of a technology startup.

Urwyler’s commitment is not about comparing men and women. "There is no typical male leadership style and no typical female leadership style. You can’t categorize it." Rather, she’s concerned with getting men on board for her goals: "You need success stories from men who have had good experiences with women on the board."

Personal details:

Ramona Urwyler (39) has been Head of Hospitality at the Schulthess Clinic in Zurich and a member of the Extended Executive Board since 2017. The graduate Hôtelière-Restauratrice HF/SHL completed the Executive MBA Lucerne (EMBA) in 2020 at the Department of Business and Economics at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. She is co-founder of the association "Women for the Board", which promotes women on boards of directors. Born in Basel, she lives with her husband in Zurich, enjoys traveling to foreign countries and learning about new cultures. In her private life, too, she attaches great importance to good food and drink. Another passion she pursues in her free time is golf.