So …. There may only have a been a staggeringly under-representative 17% of women present at Davos 2015 last week, but they certainly made their presence felt across the four days of the World Economic Forum. Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief of news website the Huffington Post proved a veritable tour de force and a prolific tweeter and Facebook poster direct from the Microsoft-HuffPost Café at Davos. When she wasn’t interviewing the likes of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg at Davos for HuffPost Live, she was hosting and taking part on a variety of panel discussions and attending numerous events and dinners. Many women (and men) were also seen brandishing their newly acquired copy of Huffington’s latest book – Thrive – and espousing the book’s values of sleep and mindfulness.
Another tour de force at Davos this year was Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Undersecretary-General and Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Amongst her many activities at Davos, key activities included addressing the ‘Ending Poverty through Parity’ session and playing a lead role at the launch of the #HeforShe campaign’s latest initiative – #Impact10x10x10 – a 1-year project aiming to take on bigger groups as opposed to individuals.
Addressing the audience on the same panel was UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, actress Emma Watson, who advised ‘Women share this planet 50/50 and they are underrepresented – their potential astonishingly untapped’. (Bristol Woman would agree with Emma 100%!). Tech industry star and Chief Operating Officer at Facebook – and author of ‘Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Lead’ – Sheryl Sandberg was also a leading women’s voice at the World Economic Forum, adding key contributions to many panels. Gender stereotyping – both conscious and unconscious in education, the workplace and society at large – proved a particular hot topic for Sandberg when speaking to panels and audiences. When it came to gender stereotyping at work, Sandberg made a bold call, demanding that companies have far more open and robust discussions about gender stereotypes and reminding Davos audiences that ‘success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women’.
Other leading women at Davos, hosting and taking part in panel discussions included Christine Largarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Katherine Garrett-Cox, CEO of Alliance Trust plc; Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International; household name in America and journalist, author and television host Katie Couric; plus Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania and Drew Faust, President of Harvard University. Yet more leading women included Ana Botin, Chairman of Banco Santander, Spain, Ngaire Woods, Dean of Oxford-based Blavatnik School of Government and Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Plus, of course, many other unsung but vital women’s voices at Davos. A key report launched at Davos by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and Saadia Zahidi who heads up its Gender Parity programme was ‘The Global Gender Gap Report 2014’. In the Report’s Preface, Schwab is clear that on the business front, those companies who ignore the growing female talent pool coming out of schools and universities increasingly only undermine their own competitiveness. He was also clear – echoing Emma Watson’s speech at Davos – that women represent one half of the global population and consequently deserve equal access to health, education, influence, earning power and political representation.
Beyond the women mentioned above, there were many other women movers and shakers at Davos making up the 17% of women in attendance, including many up-and-coming young women leaders of tomorrow taking part in the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers initiative. In his round-up of Davos, ‘Three Thoughts as I fly home from Davos’, Anders Borg, Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Financial System initiative made zero mention of the contribution of women and did not seem to express a desire to see the pitiful 17% representation figure for women attendees ramped up considerably in 2016 and beyond. Granted, his focus was not surprisingly on economic insights but it is still a small clue to the huge battle that women face to bring gender parity levels to a healthy balance and their vital contribution to be understood and embraced at a far more visceral level. Let’s leave the last word to the UN’s Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and her haunting words on prospects for gender parity that she made at the Davos 2015 session ‘Ending Poverty through Parity’. She said, “at the rate we’re going it will take 50 years until we have parity …. “.
Bristol Women sincerely hopes that this won’t be the case and that much-needed gender parity will arrive far sooner along with a far more representative percentage of women at Davos 2016 and beyond.