Every year at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, top business executives, political, and academic leaders meet to improve the state of the world by shaping global, regional, and industry agendas. However, it was apparent after the conclusion of the meeting in Davos last week that something was missing: women.
A new policy was imposed by the WEF this year to increase the amount of women participants, allowing its 100 strategic partners a fifth delegate slot if it was filled by a woman. Yet women still made up only 16 percent of the 2,500 participants, with many companies choosing to forgo their fifth spot.
One reason for this lack of female representation is that women run only 3 percent of the 500 biggest companies, and lead fewer than 20 countries. This makes it hard to increase the attendance of women- too few occupy those high powered positions.
Not only were women lacking in attendance, women’s issues were largely missing from the program’s agenda and panels. There were only two forums that emphasized women, or women’s empowerment.
Women’s empowerment is necessary in order to promote economic development. According to the United Nations Development Program, when there is gender equality and women have equal access to education and participate in business and economic decision-making, the economy gets a boost. When women are empowered they raise household incomes by increasing their earning power and control over household decision-making, breaking the cycle of poverty for future generations.
There were, apparently, some encouraging signs at Davos, Nicole Schwab, the daughter of the founder of the WEF, is introducing a certificate to companies that have high standards on equal pay, female representation, and employee satisfaction with gender equality. The hope is that this certificate will help increase female participation and encourage companies to do more to promote gender equality.
Young leaders also spoke out. The head of the WEF’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme told the press that the forum’s goal is to have membership in its Young Global Leaders be at least half female within five years.
As important as women and women’s empowerment is to the future health and economic well-being of the world, women should have been featured more prominently in the discussion. There were a number of laudable goals announced at Davos this year, but as Karl Hoffman of PSI noted in his blog, they will fall short, “if we cannot help women and families get the access to family planning they want and need to help them control their family’s growth and their own reproductive health.”
Posted by Emily Pontarelli, Program Associate