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Diversity and equality in the cultural sector

Theater Chur | Photography and montage: Nadia Lanfranchi & Nina Oppliger


Lisa Pedicino
Innovation & Society Specialist


Media enquiries

Swiss society is diverse. Often, however, this marked diversity is not sufficiently reflected in the country’s cultural sector. There are reasons: not everyone has the same opportunities to gain a footing in the cultural scene. For women, senior management positions in cultural institutions remain difficult to attain, and on average they earn 17% less than their male counterparts. Cultural practitioners from migrant communities rarely find a position at cultural institutions, and they are also clearly underrepresented in artistic programmes and among artists who are awarded grants. This is problematic given that 38% of Switzerland’s population have a migration background.*

Numerous cultural institutions lack the resources, methods and know-how to meet the challenges of today’s diverse society. As a result, the necessary long-term structural adjustments are not made and the potential that diversity offers goes unused.

Pro Helvetia has reacted to these key social and cultural policy issues by launching activities around the topic of «Diversity and equality in the cultural sector». The activities intend to drive debates in the cultural sector and to lay the foundations for broader access to the Swiss cultural scene by means of fact-finding and promotional measures.

Targets 2021-2024

  • Support cultural institutions and provide them with active guidance in the development of diversity-oriented processes.
  • Reduce barriers for cultural practitioners from marginalised population groups to the Swiss cultural sector and to opportunities for grants.
  • Promote knowledge transfer in the areas of diversity and equality and provide practice-oriented guidelines for cultural institutions.
  • Collect and disseminate data and facts on diversity in the Swiss cultural sector.

Open calls for applications

Formats for which applications can be submitted throughout the year

Please refer to the Innovation & Society guidelines to obtain an overview of the funding criteria as well as the application and selection process.

* Facts and figures are on one hand based on the statistics of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on the cultural economy in Switzerland, which the FSO has compiled in accordance with the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) and on the other hand on the preliminary study mandated by Pro Helvetia and the Swiss Center for Social Research on gender relations in the Swiss cultural sector.

Initiating Diversity Processes in Cultural Organisations

Would you like to identify discrimination and exclusion mechanisms in your cultural organization? Would you like to analyse your organisational culture and become more accessible? Pro Helvetia supports those wishing to pursue this process with its «Tandem Diversity» programme: Take part in a specially designed two-day workshop to learn the basics of diversity-oriented organisational development and to critically reflect on your organisation. On completing the workshop, you may apply for financial support to initiate and implement a long-term diversity process together with experienced coaches.

Interested? For deadlines, criteria and FAQs, please see the call for applications.

Gender relations in the Swiss cultural sector.
An analysis focusing on cultural practitioners, institutions and associations

Preliminary study by the Center for Gender Studies, University of Basel and Social Insight GmbH, commissioned by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and the Swiss Center for Social Research


Introduction: background and methodology

In Switzerland, there is little systematic knowledge on the topic of gender relations1 in the cultural sector. There is a paucity of gender-specific data and statistics in many cultural institutions and in the area of financial support for culture. For some time, therefore, various cultural sector and cultural policy stakeholders have been motivating for a comprehensive study to investigate equality of opportunity, especially because gender representivity in all relevant areas of cultural production is a goal of Swiss cultural policy. The Swiss Federal Council’s cultural policy statement «Kulturbotschaft 2021–2024» makes provision for a more detailed survey of statistical data and the assessment of applicable measures.2 The purpose of this preliminary study is to generate initial evidence about trends and to develop working hypotheses with the goal of ongoing data collection and a comprehensive Switzerland-wide study.

Given the paucity of existing analyses and research in this area, the preliminary study was restricted to a selective quantitative analysis. Gender relations were examined in four cultural disciplines: performing arts (i.e. dance and theatre), literature, music and the visual arts; in each case the survey looked at between four and six selected cantons.3 The study analysed information and data from a total of 38 cultural institutions and organisations (including festivals), 16 industry and producer associations and 17 professional associations. The study also examined 828 awards and grants in 14 cantons and at Federal level from 2000 to 2020. In addition, 27 qualitative interviews and 14 technical discussions were undertaken across the four disciplines in order to interpret the quantitative results appropriately. These qualitative elements are excluded from this summary.

The quantitative data led to three findings:

Finding 1: women are under-represented in leadership positions

The initial indication is that the cultural sector is no different when it comes to the under-representation of women in senior positions. Women on average are under-represented in leadership roles. At strategic management and board level of the cultural institutions and organisations examined in the analysis, women are in the board chair position in only 28.8 percent of cases across all four disciplines. Women make up only 10 percent more (38.4 percent) of board members at cultural institutions. It is important to mention here that the literature discipline has a balanced gender ratio at executive levels while women are significantly under-represented in the other three disciplines. The laggard is the music discipline with only 8.3 percent of chair and deputy chair positions at music institutions and festivals held by women.

Graphic 1: Strategic management (board chair/members) at cultural institutions & organisations

Graphic 1: Strategic management (board chair/members) at cultural institutions & organisations

In the cultural sector, women have more visibility at the operational level. The number of women in operational management at cultural institutions is trending towards a balanced gender ratio at 42 percent. Even here, significant differences are found between the disciplines. The literature discipline even has more women than men overall at management level (62.5 percent), while the music discipline is distinguished by its dismally low ratio of 31.4 percent. This drops to 0 percent for directorships at music institutions and organisations that participated in the survey.

Graphic 2: Operational management at cultural institutions & organisations

Graphic 2: Operational management at cultural institutions & organisations

Another finding from the research is that there is a correlation between under-representation and the size of cultural organisations: the larger the institution, the less often there will be a woman in the executive position. Large institutions in the theatre and visual arts very seldom have a female director. By contrast, the number of medium to small institutions with women directors is as high as 60 percent.

The situation in professional associations and in industry and producer associations is similar. In general, women are under-represented in strategic and operational management positions. Women make up only 29.2 percent of chair and deputy chair positions, 39.3 percent of board members and 31.3 percent at operational management levels.

Finding 2: Female artists and their work have lower visibility and receive awards less often

In the purely artistic activities, there is also a strong predominance of stereotypical male or female activities. The positions for artistic direction and writing are largely the preserve of men while women are largely active as performers. In the 2018/19 performing arts season, the share of positions held by women at the level of direction and choreography was in the region of one third. The profile of women as conductors in classical music is especially low. Here the ratio of women is 6.6 percent.

Graphic 3: Ratio of women in artistic management positions (direction/choreography/conducting)

Graphic 3: Ratio of women in artistic management positions (direction/choreography/conducting)

A similar scenario faces female playwrights, writers and composers; these careers are also difficult for women to enter. Only 15 percent of stage productions performed were written by women, while virtually no classical music composed by women was performed; the share is only 2.3 percent.

By contrast, there is more equality when it comes to stage performances and reading appearances; in the performing arts and literature the gender ratios tend to be closer to a balance. Women appeared in approx. 40–50 percent of performance roles. However, in none of the disciplines investigated did women exceed a ratio of 50 percent. For art exhibitions, by contrast, the ratio of women was a maximum of one third (31 percent for group exhibitions, 26 percent for solo exhibitions). There is virtually no profile for women in music. The ratio of women performers (soloists and orchestra/backing musicians) is around 34 percent for classical music, about 12 percent for jazz and between 8.6 and 12.8 percent for rock/pop.

Graphic 4: Ratio of women in performances and exhibitions [Anhang, Tabelle 9, erste Spalte]

Graphic 4: Ratio of women in performances and exhibitions

The chances of receiving an award or a grant for their work or performances are similarly bleak for women. Of the 828 prizes investigated, 37.1 percent were awarded to women. The situation is balanced in the theatre/dance/performing arts discipline (50.5 percent of prizes went to women), while music is again the laggard – only 25.8 percent of awards went to women.

Finding 3: women earn less than men

The unequal distribution of men and women in various levels of management, career groups and responsibilities is attended by gender-specific distinctions regarding decision-making scope, social recognition and remuneration. Unfortunately there is very little concrete data available from the individual disciplines for current salary conditions that would make it possible to derive exact evidence. However, because the size of the institutions determines budgets for salaries, appointments, auditions, conditions of employment, etc. it must be assumed that there is a significant salary distinction between men and women. Further evidence of salary inequality is suggested by the many qualitative interview responses criticising the absence of transparency when it comes to fees and compensation.

The Swiss performers association «Schweizerischen Bühnenkünstlerverband» (SBKV) is the only association that compiles salary data for its members. The data shows that women receive significantly lower incomes compared to men. Many of the associations approached in the study referred to the «Suisseculture Sociale» studies, a survey series that investigated the income and social security of cultural practitioners in 2006 and 2016. Unfortunately, this survey provides very little data on gender relations. Based on calculations using this data, it is possible to conclude that incomes are precarious across disciplines and for all genders. One third of cultural practitioners earn less than CHF 21 150 gross per year (35.3 percent of women and 33.6 percent of men). In addition, only one quarter of women cultural practitioners (26.7 percent) receive a gross annual salary of CHF 21 150 or more while for men the figure is one third (36.4 percent).[1] This limited data does provide an initial indication of a gender pay gap that favours men, but additional research in this area is essential.

Conclusion and recommendations

The manifest under-representation of and lack of visibility for women in the cultural sector means that Switzerland loses a significant potential in skills and abilities in both artistic and management areas. It can be assumed that one central cause of this imbalanced situation is the still strongly influential yardstick of lifestyle and career configurations defined by men in the arts and cultural sector. This deep-set logic has a specific bearing on the issues of the compatibility of a career with family life and hierarchical power relations. Gender stereotypes of masculinity and femininity therefore still have the effect of an unconscious bias in the cultural sector and are an obstacle on the road to enduring structural transformation.

There is therefore, after this preliminary study, an urgent need to survey data about gender relations in the Swiss cultural sector more comprehensively. Targeted measures can only be developed and implemented once the gaps in knowledge and data have been eliminated.

The following are recommendations:

  1. Data about incomes and the extent of the gender pay gap must be surveyed in depth.
  2. Insight into career trajectories and information about central moments in artistic careers are necessary to understand the reasons artists choose to continue or abandon an artistic career.
  3. In a related aspect, the issue of compatibility of family and professional life must be investigated.
  4. The issue of financial support at various levels (Federation, cantons, local government) requires greater research taking into account the complexity of funding mechanisms and opportunities.
  5. Future research must integrate the areas of education and the universities (accessibility, selection criteria, curricula, teaching staff, number of students and graduates).

In the medium term, the goal must be the continuous surveying of facts and figures in order to be able to identify developments and trends and facilitate corresponding measures, as defined in the Federal Council’s cultural policy statement. Structural transformation to achieve gender equality will only be accomplished through ongoing gender monitoring and consequent strategies suitable for the specific contexts and sub-sectors.

  1. The expression “gender relations” is defined as the manner in which relations between different genders in specific historical constellations are socially constructed and institutionalised. This study is limited to the investigation of gender relations between men and women as the study itself was not able to establish data about non-binary persons. [1]
  2. «Botschaft zur Förderung der Kultur in den Jahren 2021–2024 (Kulturbotschaft 2021–2024)», Article [2]
  3. Performing arts: Zurich, Solothurn, St Gallen, Fribourg and Geneva; literature: Aargau, Thurgau, Graubünden and Valais; music: Lucerne, Bern, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserhoden, Ticino and Vaud; and visual arts: Baselstadt, Baselland, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Glarus, Jura and Neuchâtel. [3]
  4. The income figures are for cultural practitioners in all disciplines with cultural work as their primary source of income. The remaining 38 percent of women and 30 percent of men receive income from cultural work on a part-time basis. [4]

Is there anything we have forgotten?

We look forward to your comments and recommendations.


Here you can find useful tools and methods for long-term diversity processes in cultural institutions. The material provided is particularly suited to diversity processes in cultural organisations and offers orientation and guidance.

Recommended reading | Video inputs | Experts and coaches | Explanation of terms

Recommended reading

This PDF offers a collection of guidelines, brochures, reports, podcasts and videos on topics related to diversity processes in cultural institutions. When making the selection, we put the emphasis on easily accessible documents (available free of charge and/or readily understandable) and on knowledge of practical relevance. The list is by no means exhaustive, and we would be glad to receive any further-going tips and information. We wish you a stimulating read!

Download PDF

Video inputs: Diversity in arts and cultural organisations

What is diversity? Are cultural organisations «places for all people»? How does diversity-oriented organisational development work? What do diversity processes have to do with staff, audiences or artistic programmes? What practical examples are there?

Diversity experts Ivana Pilić and Miriam Camara address these and many other questions in their video inputs. The presentations were given at the «Diversity Tandem» workshop held in Biel in June 2022. The videos provide a suitable introduction to processes and efforts aimed at making organisations more diverse and inclusive.

Miriam Camara: Diversity-oriented organisational development in arts and cultural organisations

Our organisation wants to diversify its staff. What should we pay attention to? Is it enough to revise our job advertisements? What does diversity have to do with our organisational culture? Miriam Camara offers an introductory definition of «diversity» and explains in an easily understandable way what it means to initiate diversity-oriented organisational development in cultural organisations. Her presentation focuses on human resources issues and organisational culture.

Miriam Camara is the founder and managing director of akoma coaching & consulting. She has many years of experience as an organisational developer and a professional background in communication and occupational psychology. For over 20 years, she has supported classical and diversity-oriented organisational development processes in cultural organisations, public administrations, non-profit and for-profit organisations.

To the video on YouTube

Ivana Pilić: Culture-oriented openings in migrant societies

How can art productions represent social heterogeneity? How does everyday racism relate to structural discrimination? Are all types of participation equally effective? Ivana Pilić explains the term «migrant society» and uses good practice examples from the German-speaking cultural scene to illustrate what diversity-oriented programming means. Step by step, she traces the process of opening up cultural organisations, as well as discusses the opportunities but also the challenges of pursuing this path.

Ivana Pilić is a curator and cultural scientist. She is doing her doctorate on «art practices critical of discrimination» at the Centre for Science and Art at the University of Salzburg and the Mozarteum. She previously served as artistic director at Brunnenpassage. Her research focuses on exploring transcultural formats and developing diversity-critical concepts in the cultural sector. She is co-curator of D/Arts — Project Office for Diversity and Urban Dialogue.

To the video on YouTube

Experts and coaches

Are you looking for experts and/or coaches who support artistic and cultural institutions in long-term diversity processes? You can find a list of diversity experts and coaches here. We are happy to advise you on the selection of the appropriate expertise.

Download PDF

Note: At the moment this list is only available in German and French.

Explanation of terms

Terms in the field of diversity are frequently vague and fraught with specific connotations and prejudices. Here you will find explanations of six terms that are especially often used in connection with our calls for applications.


Diversity as it is understood here focuses on the acknowledgment of commonalities that people share and the differences between them. Another term that could be used in this context is heterogeneity. Historically grown differentiation within a society has led to social inequality based on attributes such as origin, gender, age, language, social position, life orientation, sexual orientation, religious or political convictions, worldview, as well as physical, mental or psychological disabilities (see also Art. 8 of the Swiss Federal Constitution).

Diversity processes

Diversity processes are long-term approaches to changes within institutions and organisations in the area of diversity. The aim of a diversity process is to achieve a structural dismantling of discrimination and of the barriers resulting from such discrimination. In the cultural sector, the focus is normally on long-term diversification in the area of the «three Ps»:

  • personnel (who is working in the cultural sector?),
  • programmes (what is being offered, who is being supported?) and
  • public (which sectors of the public have access to the content on offer?)


Equality signifies equal opportunities for sharing and participating in cultural, political, economic and social life, irrespective of gender, origin and other social differences. Egalitarian access means that all have the same opportunities at the start and all have an equal chance to grasp these opportunities. Efforts to achieve such equality therefore focus on the structural dismantling of discrimination and barriers.


Marginalisation means excluding or ignoring individuals or groups of people, or pushing them to the outer rims of society. Such marginalisation is always accompanied by forms of discrimination and usually occurs on several of the following levels at once: geographic, economic, social and cultural. In the cultural sector, marginalisation may mean poorer access to grants or to positions of influence.

Migration society

The term refers to processes of cultural, social and political changes in a society as a result of immigration. Such change is understood to be a process that makes a positive contribution to the shaping of society. According to the Federal Statistical Office (2019), nearly 38% of Switzerland’s residential population have a migration background, clearly marking Switzerland out as a migration country.

Gender equality

Gender equality stands for equal opportunities for sharing and participating in cultural, political, economic and social life for all genders and gender identities. Such equality presupposes that disadvantages and barriers due to socially formed role patterns are acknowledged and combated (e.g. by eliminating gender pay gaps or by setting quotas for representative positions). Gender equality also means that differences in life planning, behavioural patterns and the needs of the various genders are taken into consideration and supported.

Some of these definitions are based on the dictionary of the Berlin project office Diversity Arts Culture. For more information and further definitions.

Other Dossiers

Upcoming maintenance work

The application portal myprohelvetia will be updated from 1.1.-7.1.2024. Due to these changes, open applications must be finalized and submitted via the current online portal (myprohelvetia.ch) by the latest 23:59 on 31 December 2023. Until this date, the deadlines and criteria outlined in the current guidelines and calls for applications apply. New applications can be created and submitted in the application portal as of 8 January 2024.