Fostering equal opportunity and promoting women’s access to technical and engineering fields and professions is an integral part of EPFL’s mission of excellence in both teaching and research.
Through this action plan, EPFL’s management intends to foster a coordinated and focused approach towards equality promotion, diversity and inclusion, to support the exchange and the emulation of good practices within EPFL, as well as with institutions pursuing the same interests and goals in Switzerland and at an international level.
At EPFL, people from a wide range of cultural, social and academic backgrounds work and study together. Diversity is a strength. It requires an environment of mutual respect and understanding to allow the members of EPFL community, individually and collectively, to interact, work together and achieve exceptional results. EPFL does not tolerate discrimination, bullying, violence or harassment and pursues an active policy to promote equal opportunities and inclusiveness. In particular, EPFL does not tolerate any discrimination towards students and employees on grounds such as gender, sexual orientation, gender and sexual identity, disability, colour of skin, social origin, religious affiliation, national origin, etc.
As a publicly funded institution, EPFL is endowed with a particular responsibility, both with regard to the principle of non-discrimination and in achieving progress for effective equality. By extension, this holds true also for all employees and in particular for those in management and decision-making positions. It should be mentioned, that the list is not exhaustive and continues to evolve.
The principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender in the Federal Constitution of Switzerland goes along with a direct mandate to both legislative and executive authorities – including public institutions such as EPFL – to take action to achieve real equality between women and men. This mandate, together with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, art. 4 § 1) and the Gender Equality Act of 1995, provides the legal basis for targeted temporary measures aimed at accelerating effective equality by compensating for the disadvantages of women compared to men in most areas of social, economic and political life.
The Gender Equality Act, a federal law that targets the field of public and private employment relationships, protects both women and men from discriminatory acts: neither sex, marital status, their family situation nor, in the case of women, pregnancy shall give rise to direct or indirect inequality of treatment. The prohibition of discrimination applies in particular to recruitment, assignment of tasks, adjustment of working conditions, remuneration, training and further education, promotion and termination of employment relationships. As mentioned above, the Gender Equality Act specifies that appropriate measures designed to achieve effective equality do not constitute discrimination.
Measures are deemed appropriate if they are effective with regard to the pursued aim, if there isn’t another type of action with equal impact that would have less restriction on others (i.e., men), and if the restriction effected on the rights of others (i.e., men) is limited. Positive measures can take different forms, such as mentoring programs, outreach measures, targeted recruiting, quotas fixing a certain percentage of the underrepresented gender to be included on shortlists for academic positions, preferential hiring of the underrepresented gender subject to the condition of equivalent qualification to that of the candidates belonging to the overrepresented gender.
The Gender Equality Act also specifies the prohibition of sexual harassment. It requires the authorities, including the ETH Domain, to take appropriate measures to prevent and address cases of sexual harassment. It also requires authorities, including the ETH Domain, to set up conciliation boards that can be called upon to advise the parties. EPFL has a dedicated page with advice and resources on this subject. You can also check Chapters 3 (Harassment) and 4 (Help & Support) of the Compliance Guide for additional information.
The ban on discrimination on the ground of the sexual orientation, sexual or gender identity is enshrined in the Swiss Federal Constitution via the ban on discrimination based on gender and way of life. Beyond the general protection against discrimination, and the duty for employers to protect the integrity of their employees, formal legal protection for LGBTIQ people in Switzerland is still scarce. With the extension of the scope of the Criminal Code (Art.261bis), persons who suffer discrimination because of their homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality or non-binary identity will be protected against certain forms of publicly expressed acts such as hate speech and service denial that undermine their human dignity, based on their sexual orientation.
These principles are of central value to EPFL. As a learning and evolving institution, EPFL strives to continually improve its inclusiveness of people who identify as LGBTIQ. More information is available on EPFL’s LGBTIQ page.
This prohibition can refer to a discrimination based on a compound of characteristics, such as nationality, language, skin colour, hair or eye shape, descent. Discrimination based on ‘origin’ is also often linked to the criterion of religion. No discrimination on the grounds of origin is tolerated at EPFL.
However, based on legal requirements, EPFL may have to apply different rules depending on citizenship or place of residence. For example, type and conditions on work permit for EU citizens or for citizens of non-EU countries. .
How should one deal with perceived differences? The Federal Act on Foreign nationals and Integration defines the aim of integration as the coexistence on the basis of the values of the Federal Constitution and mutual respect and tolerance.
As for the discrimination on the grounds of origin, this form of discrimination can refer to a discrimination based on a compound of characteristics which were relied upon by racist ideologies to classify people into superior and inferior groups. As the concept of “race” is thoroughly discredited and lacks scientific foundation, it is more appropriate to refer to racist discrimination than to racial discrimination.
The Swiss Criminal Code against racist discrimination (art. 261bis CP) renders punishable acts of explicit or implicit refusal to grant equal rights to human beings on grounds of the colour of their skin or their ethnic or cultural origin or incitement to hatred or discrimination against a person or a group of persons on the grounds of the colour of their skin or their ethnic or cultural origin, or religion.
As the reports by the Swiss Network of Counselling Centres for Victims of Racism show, the workplace is one of the contexts where racist incidents are experienced. Racist discrimination at the workplace is the second most frequent kind of racist incidents reported, often in the form of unequal treatment, denigration and insults. Awareness is required from all of us. Racist discrimination is incompatible with values at EPFL and is not tolerated.
Freedom of belief, conscience and opinion is protected by the Swiss Constitution and international treaties that Switzerland has signed such as the ECHR. According to art. 9 of the ECHR, “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. “
The need to ensure the proper functioning of an institution can nevertheless justify certain limitations of individual freedoms. The duty of loyalty of employees thus includes the requirement of a reservation in the expression of religious, ideological or political convictions. However, these restrictions depend on the specific mission of the institution, as well as on the place the individual occupies within the institution.
From religious freedom flows the requirement of confessional neutrality of the State. Religious neutrality applies not only to primary and secondary schools but also to post-compulsory public education and universities.
Jurisprudence continues to contribute to the shaping of our understanding of religious freedom. Although highly publicised and discussed, case law arising from conflicts around religion remains relatively rare in Switzerland, since most conflicts are resolved through dialogue, the search for pragmatic solutions and concessions by the parties. These principles also apply to EPFL.
The Federal Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against People with Disabilities (Disability Discrimination Act, DDA) and the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed by Switzerland, have the purpose of preventing, reducing or eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities and to ensure the conditions that facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities in the life of society, in particular by helping them to be independent in establishing social contacts, completing training or further training and exercising a professional activity. This law therefore applies directly to EPFL and obliges it to take appropriate measures to facilitate equal access to studies and jobs for persons with a physical, mental or psychological disability. EPFL has a dedicated page with advice and resources for students.
The age criterion prohibits discrimination on the grounds of both youth and old age. Prohibited is differential treatment based on stereotypical representations of abilities of young or elder persons and the value attributed to them based on this. A differentiation must be made between illicit discrimination based on age and justified protective measures (e.g., provisions on retirement age). Even though only limited jurisprudence exists in Switzerland on the topic of discrimination based on age, there is a growing sensitivity to the issue, resulting in efforts to prevent discrimination and ensure age diversity in hiring. Research funding organisations such as the SNSF and universities increasingly apply academic age (i.e., number of years since PhD) as a criterion as opposed to biological age. EPFL strives to hire an age-diverse population.
EPFL as an employer has the responsibility to acknowledge and safeguard, within the employment relationship, employees’ personal safety, health and integrity. To this end, EPFL takes all the measures that are shown by experience to be necessary, that are feasible and appropriate to the particular circumstances and may equitably be expected of EPFL. Among others, the Security, Prevention and Health unit (DSPS), Human Resources, the Student Affairs, the Person of Trust and the Cellule Respect have specific mandates in this respect. However, the responsibility to protect the integrity of employees also follows the lines of hierarchy.
Employees on their side have a duty of loyalty or fidelity (Art. 20 LPers). They must refrain from any behavior that could harm their employer or employees. This implies, in particular, that irregularities shall be reported internally or to the competent authorities (LEX 220.127.116.11, art. 22a). More generally, the employee must perform his or her duties in such a way that no damage is caused to the employer’s assets (for example EPFL’s reputation). This duty of loyalty or fidelity concerns each employee, whatever their position. During their studies, EPFL students are required to respect regulations governing school life and act in accordance to the EPFL Honor Code (LEX EPFL 2.3.1), which includes a general duty to respect the EPFL community as a whole. The scrutiny will be enhanced for executives and managers because of the autonomy conferred on them and the exemplary nature of their duty.