‘Davos for Women’ May Marginalize Female Leaders

Creating a separate sphere of influence does not mean exerting an equal amount of influence

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Masuti / Demotix / Corbis

Malaysian First Lady Rosmah Mansor, center, and Irene Natividad, left, president of the Global Summit of Women, arrive on the first day of the summit in Kuala Lumpur on June 6, 2013

The Global Summit of Women, now wrapping up in Kuala Lumpur, brings together corporate and political leaders from around the world. As such, it is often called the Women’s Davos (although the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, which meets annually in Deauville, France, also competes for that title). These gatherings allow female leaders a privilege that their male counterparts still take for granted — the luxury of knowing, when you step into a conference hall, that your gender will be in the majority. But the bigger question is whether attempting to create separate spheres of power changes anything or if it further serves to marginalize women in leadership.

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There is no doubt that Davos is a boy’s club. In 2013, only 17 % of the delegates were women, a number that has remained static for many decades despite a new policy that requires that companies must send one woman for every four men.

But perhaps success should not just be measured by entry into the World Economic Forum. After all, the Davos definition of power could use a little updating. Yes, many fewer CEOs and heads of state are women, but women wield enormous power in the NGO and activist world. Even the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list measures not just size of the company but impact.

The Global Summit of Women in particular was founded to make women in the corporate world more visible. But like the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize), the summit’s chief virtue is that it makes women visible to each other. It can be very empowering, especially for younger women entrepreneurs, to be in an environment where you can see the achievements of women more clearly, even if this can only be accomplished by tuning out the white noise of the male corporate world. But in terms of affecting or bringing about change, it’s been around since 1994, and if it hasn’t yet developed at least some of the clout Davos has, we have to ask what it stands for. Visibility isn’t progress if female leaders remain underrepresented.

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Another, and far more urgent goal for these types of forums might be for them to increase the number of women in business. E.U. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding made a controversial statement last year, when she argued in favor of affirmative action, suggesting a 40% quota for women in boardrooms. Her proposal has been widely debated: her logic is unassailable, but many will resist the idea that the only way to deal with a glass ceiling is to smash it into tiny pieces.

For these summits, the dilemma then is how to use the commitment of their members, and the good will they’ve generated, to put pressure of existing institutions to change. Creating a separate sphere of influence makes sense, but only if it exerts an equal amount of influence. As IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has said, when it comes to advancing women to the highest levels of business and policymaking, “We have to dare the difference and we have to speak about it.” Lagarde made those comments at a World Economic Forum session on women leadership in Davos.

4 comments
anonymot
anonymot

America has become a nation of militants. Militants this and militants that. Everybody is a victim and no one wants to be part of any majority. So what we've done is splinter the interests of the nation. The shards fight for attention & money & who gets the biggest bullhorn. i've lived in countries where women had power, ran for President, were CEOs of major corporations and no one paid attention to them because of the nature of their pelvic area, but rather watched their intelligence, efficiency, and performance. The women's Davos merely splinters people more into just another whiney power group!

We now practically have a new national motto: Politically correct or die. And the most aggressive proponents were formerly liberals.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

...Why, in the year 2013, are we STILL acting like it's still the 1970s?

Could anyone imagine [emphasis] if male CEOs decided to hold a 'Davos for Men'-type event?  The cries of 'sexism!' would be beyond count. 

What does it matter if the leaders of companies are men, women, White, Black, Asian, Whatever?

What matters most to organizations is competency, vision, drive, and determination (among other invaluable attributes).

In the year 2013, can we FINALLY stop making such a big deal about race and gender already??

Cate
Cate

@mrbomb13 Let me guess... you're a white man? LOL 

Anyone could easily imagine a 'Davos for Men' type event, as that is EVERY DAVOS EVENT EVER (83% male delegates, as the article clearly states). 

Open your eyes, Mr. Bomb. Racism and sexism are alive and flourishing.        

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

First, thank you for your reply.  Just a couple of constructive comments:

1) Your comment that 83% of the Davos delegates being men also implies that 17% are women.  Therefore, it would be inaccurate to claim that, "EVERY DAVOS EVENT EVER" has been a 'Davos for Men'-type event, as women have clearly been present by your implication.

2) With the premise being flawed, your conclusion - that 'racism and sexism are alive and flourishing' - is also left unsupported.  Just because only 17% of the delegates are female does not automatically mean that sexism is the cause.  Perhaps not many female CEOs are as currently successful as the male ones, or that there aren't many female CEOs at this point in time.  Unless you can provide a clear and persuasive argument, I cannot buy your claim that racism/sexism are 'alive and flourishing.'