Where are The Women at Davos?

Last week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) convened in Davos, where thought leaders, from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, met to discuss the world’s pressing issues and the innovative new ways that we can solve them.

But at a conference so committed to progress, and the progress of women, the gender disparity and poor showing of women is jarring, and worrying.

To give you an idea – only about 17% of the attendees were female.  And only 20% of those invited to attend the WEF and discuss issues on panels were women. It’s not that women are choosing not to attend the forum, it’s that they’re not being invited either.
The issue, of course, is not Davos-specific.

Davos is symptomatic of a much larger trend; the world economic forum invites leaders from around the world to attend, and the lack of women in attendance is a clear reflection of the fact that there are too few women in positions of power and influence across the world.

This is not to say that there haven’t been increasing numbers of women in positions of influence. We’ve had a female vice-presidential nominee and seen the likes of Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg in business.

But these women are few and far apart: only 3% of the chief executives running Fortune 500 companies are women and women comprise only 18.9% of the world’s legislators.

The numbers really say it all.

Even though we are taking steps toward progress, we are far from equality. Even though we are seeing higher numbers of women getting college degrees and joining the workforce (even in traditionally male-dominated professions), they remain a minority at higher levels.  The world is still run, in large part, by men.

At Davos, Sheryl Sandberg tried to explain the reason for this situation, saying: “Little girls are called bossy…success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”

While such culturally ingrained stereotypes ring too true and will take a long time to change, the fact that we’re now talking about bossy little girls is a step in the right direction.

And to work toward gender equality at all levels of leadership around the world, we need female leaders, such as Sandberg, to be part of the conversation.  That is to say, we need events like the World Economic Forum not only to acknowledge the significant disparity (as they have done), but also to help change the ratio themselves: to invite more women and involve them in the conversation.

Photo Credit: Wold Economic Forum via Creative Commons License.

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