Who are the women that come to mind when I say world leaders? Can you name one besides the president’s wife and Oprah? Sadly, the answer is typically no. In “A Push for Gender Equality at the Davos World Economic Forum, and Beyond” published in the New York Times by Alexandra Stevenson, the article highlights the push to bring light to female leaders in the workforce. Teresa Whitmarsh, head of the Washington State Investment Board and Elizabeth Nyamayaro, head of the U.N. Women’s HeForShe campaign, are two women who are the definition of world leaders. Due to their roles, each year they are invited to the summit for business typhoons, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In this annual meeting, there will be 2,500 participants from all over the world hosting heads of state, central bankers, chief executives and billionaire investors.
As these two powerful women enter this event they are overwhelmed by the severe underrepresentation of female leaders. Out of the 2,500 participants, only 17.8 percent are women. While women hold approximately 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, there is only 14.6 percent that work at an executive level, 8.1 percent who are top earners, and 4.6 percent who are Fortune 500 CEOs. How come? It is a reality of the geopolitical and economic power today.
It is not an issue of these power companies not being able to find women willing to run these operations. “There is no job women cannot do. This is not a talent deficit, it’s an opportunity deficit and a matter of cultural insensitivity,” says Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., an American civil rights activist. Both Ms. Nyamayaro and Ms. Whitmarsh, are working on increasing the ratio of women to men at the forum and at the top of the financial world. Ms. Nyamayro is working internally to reach a solution by working with global companies such as AccorHotels, Barclays, Twitter, Mckinsey & Company Schneider Electric, and Unilever. By using disclosed information from the companies regarding the gender and racial makeup of their employees, these statistics serve as a reference point to producing change. Ms. Whitmarsh meets with private equity industry makers to make the case that placing more women in decision-making positions will lead to better performance and financial returns.
“Investments are expected to be diversified, so why is that logic not applied to gender,” Ms. Whitmarsh asked.
Although the United States was number six in women’s economic participation and opportunity on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index out of 136 countries, there is still a lot to be done. The Center for American Progress came out with a report saying that it is now estimated that at the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in our country. Women can continue to outnumber men on college campuses, in earning undergraduate business degrees but they will not move up to the leadership positions of prominence and power that are well-deserved.
This is not just an American issue, it’s a world issue and the World Economic Forum brings it to a painful reality that women are pushed out and not even considered for these leadership positions.