It’s that time again! The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos kicks off next week on Wednesday 21st January. The overarching theme for this year’s Forum is ‘The New Global Context’ which takes note of the fact that the world has fundamentally changed. In essence, the WEF attendees will take a collaborative look, in light of this changed global context, at what are the fundamental forces at work – technologically, socially and economically – which require new dimensions for global decision-making and new forms of practical solutions.
Broadly speaking the Forum’s purpose, against a backdrop of a world full of problems and challenges, is to improve the state of the world through the collaborative action of all stakeholders of the world’s civil society. Top of the discussions agenda will be the real risks posed by global conflict (with the world still reeling from the tragic events in Paris last week and the Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria in early January) plus the digital economy, climate change, trusted leadership and also, critically, gender inequality.
The topic of leadership has been identified by WEF’s Global Agenda Council as being one of the top trends of 2015 (Trend No 3). Part of this leadership discussion looks at a ‘lack of leadership’ and also the importance of fostering leadership talent to create young women leaders of tomorrow. Shiza Shahid, co-founder and Global Ambassador for the Malala Fund and a also a member of the Global Agenda Council on Education discussed Malala as a case in point of the significant reach a young women leader can have: ‘we need to foster a culture where people see integrity and empathy as key character traits, where talent can rise up. Then the power of ordinary people will grow, great things will happen, and great leaders will emerge’. Davos 2015 will also see the 10th edition of The Global Gender Gap Report published which will act as a useful and pertinent trigger for focused discussions on how to close the gender gap.
Saadia Zahidi, founder and author of the Global Gender Gap and Human Capital reports tells us: “In order for the world to close gender gaps, it’s very important that we track them and measure them over time. These gaps cover health, education, political empowerment and economic participation. We’re trying to understand whether women have the same rights as men … regardless of whether they are in rich countries or poor countries”. When it comes to closing the gender gap, there’s a still a long way to go on a number of fronts. A recent study by Catalyst, a non-profit group aimed at increasing women in business found that 19.2 percent of board seats in the US last year were filled by women. In Europe, the ratio of women on company boards varied wildly by country – with only 7.9 per cent in Portugal and 35.5 per cent in Norway.
Clearly, gender parity is still somewhat far off in this new global context! Finally, one obvious and painfully visible example of gender imbalance is the significant lack of women attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Despite the presence this year of Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella alongside Angela Merkel, just 17% of Davos 2015 delegates are female. This is a slight improvement on last year when the female attendance figure was 15%. WEF is working hard to try improve its gender balance through a slightly uncomfortable quota system (free tickets are offered to those registering attendees who bring a female colleague along) but the sad reality is that the 85% men and 15% female Davos attendance figures broadly reflects the current state of play in how power and wealth are distributed globally.
At Bristol Woman, in the spirit of gender parity, we’re very much hoping that the sparse attendance of women at the World Economic Forum will have ramped up considerably by 2020! Yes, Davos is a vital gathering place of the global power elite but as the world changes – and grows more focused on women’s rights and roles – we want to see far greater focus and engagement as regards women’s rights in these discussions and a far higher female attendance. Next week Bristol Woman will be reporting back on how the discussions on gender parity and women’s issues and challenges fared at the World Economic Forum! Let’s hope the attendees, as they trudge through the snow from their hotels and chalets to the Forum will ponder the plight of women today and the many challenges they face. More to come on Davos next week!