Social Lab on Gender Equality

Our Quest: how can we, as individuals & organisations committed to transforming society, fully practice and embody Gender Equality?


The origins of this lab

The Lab was co-initiated by the community of collaboratio helvetica (70 individuals from different sectors, regions of the country and ages) during two participatory and collaborative co-creation days in February and May 2017. When the SDGs to focus our attention on, in our first cycle, were explored by the community, Gender Equality (SDG 5) came out as one of the most pressing issues. Although we all try to make a significant contribution to progress in a variety of social, political and environmental issues, we and the organisations we work in, are not immune to discriminatory structures, stereotyped success images, and internalised patterns of thought.
We believe that through a deepened understanding of Gender Equality on several levels, we can trigger a change with an extraordinary potential through our extensive activities. Hence, we found both a pressing challenge and a sense of potential waiting to be unleashed, which motivated the creation of the Gender Lab. With the help of this ecosystem the Catalyst Team of collaboratio helvetica activated the needed resources and networks to initiate the Lab with Nicole Schwab (co-founder of EDGE and Author), in order to be ready to start with a cohort of 20 explorers in November 2017.


Why Gender equality?

A bit more research and interviews with different stakeholders brought even a bigger sense of urgency around this topic in our country. Indeed, while Switzerland has pretty much closed the gender gap in many areas, there is still an important gender gap in economic participation and opportunity. According to The Economist’s Glass Ceiling Index, Switzerland ranks only #26 of 29 OECD countries, just ahead of Turkey, Japan and South Korea. More specifically, while things are rapidly shifting, Swiss cultural norms still have an influence on the roles that men and women play in society – with breadwinner roles typically assigned to men and care-taking roles to women. We can see this at the policy and structural levels in the fact that Switzerland has one of the shortest lengths of paid maternal leave amongst OECD countries, no paternal leave, and very high costs of child-care, corresponding to 41% of the average wage. As a result of all this, it is not surprising that women still take on two-thirds of domestic work, and 60% of working women work part-time, compared with 17% of men. This situation feeds into a persistent gender pay gap and fewer women exercising managerial functions (35% at management levels and 17% on boards). At the same time, men also suffer from the situation, with depression, burn-out and suicide rates that are alarming whilst for example 90% wishing to work less in order to spend more time with the family.
This structural reality no longer corresponds to the wishes and aspirations of many, especially the younger generations. There is a huge opportunity to break through the remaining barriers and establish a new cultural norm regarding gender roles that includes all realms of activity from caring for a family all the way to how leadership is conceived of and embodied in the public and private sectors. We believe the Gender Lab is an ideal setting to explore the root causes of the persistent gender gap in Switzerland, including the role of unconscious biases and cultural norms in the perpetuation of these structural gaps, and ultimately, co-create solutions to tackle them.


The Approach

The Gender Lab allows the participants to explore all aspects of Gender Equality on a personal, cultural, societal and organisational level - from the most innovative approaches to the established best practices. On this theoretical and experiential basis, we develop structural solutions specific to our participants sphere of influence, which are then tested and further developed. On the way to the prototyped solutions we hence generate learning and new insights, develop our understanding of the topic as well as our skills, and practice collaborating, fostering trust within our larger ecosystem. The direct beneficiaries are the participants as participating explorers and the organisation(s) they work in, and indirectly many more will benefit from the solutions and the changes that will occur.


Our Gender Lab was a 7-months long transformation journey to explore and prototype solutions to this complex challenge. It was an agile, deep, messy and highly effective process, similar to what is described and illustrated here. 20 explorers had committed to attend four retreats of 2.5 to 3 days and engage in activities in-between, totaling to about 5h/week of their time.
It had both temporary and permanent elements. As a Lab it is always set up temporarily for a yearly cycle. However, as Gender Equality will not be achieved by one Lab within a year, we designed for a more permanent structure of repeating cycles. With this first cycle of the Gender Lab, we wanted to lay the foundation to integrate further decision makers into the process in the next few years, thus constantly developing the sphere of influence and process quality.
This first Gender Lab Cycle has started in November 2017 and will run until June 2018. A next Cycle is currently in discussion. We are continuously sensing into the possibility of splitting the Lab in more specific questions/dimensions with the aim to run them simultaneously in order to allow cross-fertilization of the specific explorations.

Prototype Solutions

Read more about the current state of our Gender Lab Prototypes here.

Over the last couple of months the Gender Lab Explorers worked on their prototype solutions. Read below of what they contain and how the groups plan to implement them. 

Prototype 1

Reconnect and recharge through the power of self-reflection for sustainable social activism

  • What:
    For this group, the Gender Lab represented a transformative experience at the personal level. Therefore, they would like to do another weekend retreat with interested Gender Labers, focusing on self-reflection linked with the question of social activism / gender burn-out and self-care in the Fall of 2018. Apart from establishing a safe space to foster the collective, they would like to emphasise the importance of the individual transformation through the Theory U. As multiplicators of gender and agents of change, they are at the forefront of gender activism. This journey can be rewarding, but it is also loaded with emotional baggage and backlash. In order to have sustainable Gender careers and movements, gender activists must also have safe spaces for self-reflection and recovery. It is the I-am-not-alone realisations what allows us to dive into collaborative leadership and eventually prevent any potential gender burn out.

  • How: Their first prototype consists of a workshop, i.e. prototyping what such a weekend could look like. Drawing on familiar tools like check-ins and self-reflection, they would like to discuss and test our assumptions for such a retreat.

Prototype 2

Saving scheme for care leave

  • What:
    This group wants to provide a saving scheme for employees that:
    a) makes it easier to reduce work load when taking care of others (children, family members, others)
    b) guarantees the same salary during care takers leave.
    Possible add-ons could be gender-friendly investments (think yellow) and temporary staffing services (step-ins).

Prototype 3

A spark for institutional culture change: A creative dialogue event towards a  gender equal and inclusive organisation

  • What:
    This group is offering an approximately 3,5h event that aims to serve as a first spark of a culture change process in organisations that aspire to become truly gender equal and inclusive. In this event participants will be invited to share their perceptions and experiences of their individual and collective gender norms in a safe and creative space, thereby deepening their own understanding and awareness of unconscious biases, learning from each others viewpoints. This opening dialogue could serve as a basis for a broader organisational change process and/or represent a unique opportunity to co-design concrete actions to create a more equal and inclusive working culture.

  • How:
    This prototype was tested in Zürich (8th of May @ Impact HUB) and Lausanne (Impact HUB Lausanne & Genèva staff members) in May 2018. After each event the lessons learned were gathered and the prototype was refined.

Prototype 4

Out of the Box Content Co. - publishing a set of children’s books in CHDE featuring fun and simple non-gender stereotype conforming stories

  • What:
    The Out of the Box Content Co. offers simple, creative and humorous toolkits to help awaken a broader public to the pervasiveness and limitations of traditional gender normative stereotypes. They utilize humor and fun to soften resistance, and open hearts and minds to change.

  • How:
    Their first prototype is a set of simple and fun stories targeted towards preschool/school aged children and their families. Each member of the core team will write their own personal short and simple story (1 page or less) playfully describing an experience they’ve had with normative gender stereotypes. They will work with illustrators and graphic designers to publish the stories in small format (like Pixie Books) in the German speaking part of Switzerland, coupled with advice with tips on how to turn awareness into action, in this case how to engage in discussions with children about gender. Storytime gatherings may also be organized.

Impact & results

Though the concrete results follow the principle of emergence, a Social Lab will generate a minimum of four sets of outputs:

  • Physical: new services or infrastructure, such as the prototyped solutions

  • Human: new capacities and skills

  • Social: increased trust and collaboration

  • Intellectual: new knowledge and learning

Hence, the prototyped solutions will have localised or widespread impact beyond the Lab. Further, this program offers the participants the opportunities to develop new capacities and skills in addition to the theoretical knowledge about the topic, where new insights might emerge. Through the diversity of the participants, there is also a community-building impact, namely fostering personal relationships and trust between the participating organisations, thereby providing a fertile ground for collaborations.

Beyond the Gender Lab 2017, the harvested learnings that are open source will persist, along with a toolbox of different methods and approaches to address such complex topic. Furthermore, this Lab represents a first cycle of a longer process - we prepare a Gender Lab 2018 that focuses on the wider Swiss ecosystem and involves important stakeholders.

All in all, the Gender Lab makes a meaningful contribution to SDG 5 and to the sustainable change in our individual and collective thinking and being patterns, thereby supporting the transformation of the Swiss culture in this topic.


We created three different ways of direct involvement in the lab:

  1. Explorers of the Gender Lab (see above) are the committed participants of the Lab who specialise and go more in depth. A next Gender Lab Cycle is currently in discussion.

  2. Members of the co-learning circle "Gender Lab circle" (30-80 people, commitment for the whole process, around 5h/month) are people who would like to learn alongside the explorers and to support the Lab with their knowledge, experience, time, skills or other resources.

  3. Attendees of the Dialogue Evenings (3h open dialogue format, independently organised and conducted by individuals all over Switzerland for groups of 5-20 people) are any people engaging in dialogue around the topic. Join us at one of our up-coming Dialogue Evenings.

Interested to contribute?



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Nora Wilhelm is Catalyst at collaboratio helvetica, a platform dedicated to opening spaces for dialogue, experimentation and collaboration to co-create the Switzerland we want to live in.
Nora is passionate about activating the full potential of people and organisations, and was recognised by UNESCO for her work as young leader. During her studies in International Affairs at the University of St. Gallen, Nora took on multiple roles in the European Youth Parliament and presided its Swiss node for two years.



Author, facilitator and social entrepreneur, Nicole Schwab co-founded a number of non-profit organisations active in the environmental and gender fields, including EDGE Certified Foundation, a global label certifying organisations for closing the gender gap in the workplace. She spent many years designing and facilitating collaborative processes for groups and organisations, weaving together a focus on unlocking group genius, with approaches that foster deep personal enquiry and wellbeing. More recently, she is bringing her combined experiences to Colaboratio Helvetica’s GenderLab. Her first novel, The Heart of the Labyrinth – soon to be turned into a feature film – has been acclaimed as a beautiful exploration of deep mind, offering a message of Earth-centered wisdom. Nicole blogs on the nature of reality and is on the board of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Advisory Boards of The WellBeing Project and Treesisters.


We're very happy that Yan Luong, from foraus and one of the minds behind the Gender Equality Hackathon in Geneva, is a joining the Gender Lab as a Steward. Here's why: "Recent (and older) news show that Switzerland still has a long way to go for what regards gender and diversity challenges. We need change to happen from within."


Wisdom Council Gender Lab


Patricia Widmer studied business management with an emphasis in Banking and Finance at the University of Zurich. During her studies she worked at a leading global bank. After her graduation she joined a private bank as relationship manager. Together with her family she lived several years in the USA and Germany where she held responsible positions in many different volunteer organisations. After returning to Switzerland she completed her advanced studies at the ES-HSG ("Women Back to Business") and successfully returned to the workforce as relationship manager and Head of Human Resources at a small private bank.
Since October 2014 she has been working for the Executive School of Management, Technology and Law. First she was responsible to build up the English course of the programme "Women Back to Business" which was launched successfully in Spring 2016. Since Fall 2016 she has been leading both courses (English and German) in her capacity as Programme Head “Women Back to Business”. She is currently doing her PhD about unconscious bias and organisational culture.

"The Gender Lab is a great initiative to discuss and hence embody gender equality in Switzerland through a very innovative and at the same time structured process. I am happy to support the Gender Lab because it is important to think out of the box in order to achieve some sort of change in the companies but also in the society as a whole. Gender equality is not only a gender issue but really a societal issue and a paradigm shift is needed."


Robert Baker is a Global Client Director at Mercer, the leading global human resources consulting firm. Based in London, he is responsible for developing and managing Mercer’s relationships with a number of key multinational clients across all business lines and all geographies. Robert has a passion for diversity and inclusion and is a member of the steering committees for Mercer’s Gender Parity Networks for the European Region. He is also a member of Mercer’s UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council. 
Robert is Co-President of the Board of PWN Global, a major global women’s network. In this role he is focused on engaging men to support gender equality, at work, at home and in all aspects of life. He has spoken at numerous conferences and has contributed to many publications and blogs on the importance of balanced leadership and how to engage men in supporting gender equality. Robert also speaks widely on talent trends, innovation and the future of work. Robert was awarded a prestigious Guys Who Get It – Honorable Guy Award in 2017 by The Institute for Women’s Leadership, based in California, USA.

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Asmaa Guedira is passionate about gender, and very interested in the impact of social innovation enabled by digital technology and the shifts happening in our societies, especially in developing countries. She believes that collaborative and creative communities offer new alternatives to social and economic development. Today she thrives in exploring the links between gender, digital feminism, the new economy and creative communities. She currently leads an edutainment program in MENA for the Womanity Foundation, is a connector for OuiShare and founded the Hyper-Gender project which's aim is to understand humanity beyond labels, change the narrative around gender stereotypes and masculinity, and build bridges between different worlds and cultures.

On the question why she is passionate about the topic of gender and the Gender Lab: "I was lucky to grow up in a feminist family in Morocco. I have always believed in understanding humanity beyond labels, and now more than ever. We are living a momentum around gender in the world, opening doors for new players to change current narratives and stereotypes. And Gender Lab is one of them!"


Supporters & Partners


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