Just eight individuals, all men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population, Oxfam said on Monday (16/01) in a report calling for action to curtail rewards for those at the top. (Reuters Photo/Ruben Sprich)

Davos Man Seeks Davos Woman


JANUARY 24, 2016

Davos. Davos Man is being urged to broaden his circle, to include more women.

With no queues for women at the bathrooms and corridors filled with men in suits, the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps may not reflect the real world, but it does reflect the upper echelons of corporate life.

Justin Trudeau, Canada's new prime minister, challenged Davos Man, the nickname for the global business and political elite who gather every winter to talk about solving the world's problems, to follow his lead.

The 44-year-old used a quota to achieve a gender-balanced cabinet.

"The role we have as men in supporting and demanding equality and demanding a shift is really, really important," said Trudeau.

Of the 2,500 participants at this year's conclave of chief executives, central bankers and billionaire investors, only 18 percent were women, a touch above the 17 percent global average for female representation on corporate boards.

Veterans of the WEF meetings say things have improved from the early days when they were frequently the only women in the room.

Beth Brooke-Marciniak, global vice chair of public policy for consultancy EY, hosted the first women's event in Davos ten years ago. Seven hundred people turned up.

"We did it purposely to poke a finger in the eye of WEF and say, 'Have you noticed there is only a handful of us?'"

Since then, the organisation has striven to change the makeup of conference attendees through partnerships with about 100 companies, including Thomson Reuters, the parent of Reuters News.

These firms are entitled to bring four delegates, but if one is a woman they get an extra place. The problem is the short supply of women at senior levels of management.

As a result, the percentage of women represented in the strategic partners' group has more than doubled to 20 percent from 9 percent in 2011 when the quota system was introduced, a WEF spokesman told Reuters on Saturday.

"Ultimately, our aim is to provide leaders with the tools to enable them to create equal opportunities for both men and women" the WEF spokesman said.

The dominance of men at this year's meeting was reflected in one privately-organised, all-male panel on diversity.

"The WEF pull the levers they can pull," said Brooke-Marciniak. "Until we have women CEOs, how are you going to move the needle?"

Ilene Gordon, chief executive of US ingredients firm Ingredion and a Davos veteran, suggests allowing corporate women attendees to each bring another qualified woman who meets specific criteria, or tapping female professional board members.

"It would have an immediate beneficial impact," she said.


Even the most progressive companies, who may have an evenly split workforce at lower levels, see very little migration of women into senior leadership roles, said Jonas Prising, chief executive of staffing firm ManpowerGroup.

"You can clearly see break points very much correlated to break points you would expect in life," Prising said, referencing when women start having children.

According to a United Nations report released on Friday at Davos, women make up 40 percent of the global workforce but only 27 percent of senior leadership positions and 29 percent of board positions.

The oil and gas industry, which has the lowest representation of women professionals, took a step towards fixing that when members of the WEF's Oil & Gas community released a call to action to close the gender gap within the sector.

For some of the main proponents of change at Davos, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, philanthropist Melinda Gates and Canada's Trudeau, the path to parity starts at home, with more equitable expectations and divisions of labour.

"Boys are taking out the trash," Sandberg said. "It takes less time than cleaning the dishes, and they're getting higher allowances."