Quotas At Davos: Women Leaders Address Parity Issues At WEF

The World Economic Forum 2017 featured more women participants than any time in history.

The World Economic Forum 2017 featured more women participants than any time in history.

Of course, the acronym for the 47th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland last week of the WEF does not stand for Women’s Economic Forum. But for the first time, it seemed as if it might have come slightly closer to that objective.

The World Economic Forum’s gathering in a small, picturesque town in Switzerland of powerful cultural, political and economic men and women leaders from across the globe strategically and purposefully addressed – at least in some of the sessions– the needs of women in our global society. Three of the five co-chairs this year were women and one of the chairs was Pakistan’s Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

The World Economic Forum 2017 featured more women participants than any time in history #womenleaders

According to CNBC, “In 2011, the non-profit introduced its very own gender quota, requesting strategic partners – made up of 100 companies at the time – to bring at least one woman for every five senior executives that attended.”

Barri Rafferty, president of Ketchum, told Alexandra Gibbs at CNBC, the”WEF should consider how the forum and its participants can ‘help women network not only with other female leaders, but also the top male leaders.’”

Gibbs writes that since the recent push to require inclusion of more women, “There’s been an upturn in female attendance since. Out of the 3,000 participants attending WEF 2017, 21 percent will be made up of women, compared to the reported 9-15 percent figure seen during 2001 to 2005, and the 18 percent seen in 2016.”

But it is not all so rosy, as Gibbs added, as WEF’s “2016 Global Gender Gap report reveals that at current rates it may take until 2186 for men and women to reach economic equality.”

The movement is in the right direction, though.

This year “represents the highest level of female participation in the event’s history,” writes Kevin J. Delaney in Quartz.

From Davos: There are masculine and feminine styles of leadership; we encourage women to find and lead with their strengths. #taketheleadwomen

“The WEF also declared two years ago that at least 50 percent of the incoming participants in its Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers programs—a combined class of around 200 people each year—need to be women. Around 90 percent of the sessions on the public program during this year’s event have at least one female speaker,” Delaney writes.

Other discussions, comments, declarations, awards and highlights from women leaders at Davos on the issue of gender parity in the workplace and on global leadership include:

  • “Women’s aversion to rejection manifests itself in the job market, said GM CEO Mary Barra. If GM has a job posting with—say—10 qualifications, women with nine of those requirements won’t apply, whereas a man who ticks six of the boxes will,” writes Claire Zillman in Fortune.

  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg addressed how companies can shift unconscious biases and why it’s more important than ever for men to get on board, according to Bloomberg. “We have to give men a reason to participate,” in gender parity, she said, adding that there are 31,000 Lean In Circles in companies and organizations worldwide providing training on gender bias and the difficult workplace cultures for women leaders. Watch here.

  • “’Gender equality is a leadership issue,’ emphasizes Amy Weaver, Executive Vice President of Salesforce, a California-based software company with more than 25,000 employees. ‘It was not easy and by the way: there were even men who got less money than some women. We changed that as well.’ What matters is that salaries are now paid irrespective of gender, she says. That costs the company an additional $3 million a year in wages,” according to DW.

  • Shelley Zalis, founder of The Female Quotient, started The Girls’ Lounge five years ago at the WEF gathering in Davos. “This is their boys’ club – for women to get to know other women. There are masculine and feminine styles of leadership and we encourage women to find and lead with their strengths. We need both [styles] or we’re all the same,” she told the BBC.“Ms Zalis resolutely refuses to apologize for using the word girl, arguing the word woman is too associated with the traditional hierarchy where female leaders conform to male leadership styles.”

  • “Erica Dhawan, chief executive officer of Cotential, says she identifies herself as part of several groups: a millennial, an Indian American, and has never thought there’s anything that either women or men could do better.’ We can’t solve age old problems with old solutions. We need to redefine inclusion in today’s modern world and by bringing new perspectives we can improve gender equality. I’m extremely optimistic I believe we need to broaden the conversation,” according to the BBC.

  • “After skipping Davos for several years, IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty returned to the gathering to talk about her company’s work with artificial intelligence—and to attempt to reassure attendees that we’re not poised for a robot takeover, “ according to Fortune. Rometty spoke on artificial intelligence, or AI in Diginomica: “For all companies, data would become the basis of competitive advantage, but you could not make use of that data unless you had technologies that… you don’t program, [but instead] they understand, reason, and learn. That became the cognitive era that we’ve placed our big bet on.”

  • Demet Mutlu,CEO of com, which gained over $50 million in venture capital funding, and was anointed Young Global Leader in 2016,” told Business Insider: “I think entrepreneurship is all about being a lifelong student. I founded it seven years ago but I am always learning and being a sponge for new experiences, which is what you need as an entrepreneur. Each stage required different skills. You cannot have an ego, you need to keep learning.”

  • Sophi Trancehll writes in CNBCAfrica: “As a Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year, and CEO of Divine Chocolate, an international company proving that business can be done differently and leading by example, I want to keep the focus on Inequality– which remains the most fundamental barrier to making any kind of lasting positive change. Empowering women– in a world of too many poor relations, women are the poorest. In societies and supply chains globally, women come off worst and invariably receive less benefits and value than the men around them. Women and girls not only have a human right to equality, it is clear their full participation in, and leading contributions to, society and business would enhance the world and the way we together work towards ‘globalization for all.’”

  • Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat in Diginoica: “Our view is that you need to not just innovate because you have the opportunity with talent, but you need to be deliberate about it…Even at Google, where so much of the mantra was about pushing the frontier and making those bets, people didn’t really want to go outside of their comfort zone. So we created a structure where we said, ‘We are going to take bets and we’re going to be focused, because focus yields results’. We created a transparency, not just externally but internally.”

Also at WEF, Amal Clooney was honored for her human rights work at the Women of Impact dinner hosted by publisher Tina Brown (and co-hosted by Credit Suisse), according to People.

Most all of the media coverage of Clooney, however, was about what she wore, her actor husband, George, and speculation that she might be pregnant with twins, with little emphasis on her global human rights work.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com