What female representation in Davos says about gender equality globally

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Over the past week, as business leaders and heads of state from more than 100 countries gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, a recurrent question would appear in the press and social media: why so few women?

This year only 17 per cent of the 2,872 participants at the annual event were women. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Davos is still mostly a men’s club.

The industry with most female participants at Davos were “Public Sector, Civil Society, Arts, Academia”, with 28,41% of its participants being women. Other industries were “Media, Entertainment & Information” and “Banking & Capital Markets”.

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However, Davos is not alone. Women comprise less than a quarter of senior positions in corporations across the world. Only 3,4 per cent of the companies at the Fortune’s Global 500 have a women CEO, as showed in this chart by Fortune retweeted several times:

In an interview, Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum North America, pondered how much the forum is merely a representation of the how the global leadership is designed at the moment:

“It is hard to blame the forum, but the event has become a bit of barometer of how women are doing in top roles in corporations, politics and NGOs. It is a moment in time when we can count the number of women and see how we are doing.”

Not surprisingly, gender parity was amongst the ten challenges for the global economy discussed at the meeting, amongst topics such as inequality, Internet of things and monetary policy.

In a report about gender equality last year, the World Economic Forum concluded that countries where women and men have equal opportunities have a higher GDP per capita, are more competitive and have better human development.

“People and talents are the key that drive most economies,” says the report. The benefit of gender equality, however, goes beyond the economic case. “Women are half of the population and half of the world’s population. Gender equality is a vital part of human progress.”

WEF has an incentive for executives to bring women. Leaders at the highest level of membership are offered four tickets to Davos to distribute to high profile employees. If one of the tickets goes to a woman who is an executive, the company receives a fifth ticket.

Such an incentive might start changing the gender landscape at Davos, which is great news. But the greatest impact will come from a more balanced representation of women in every level of management, in every industry.

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