Business World

Friday 19 September 2014

Economic forum not so worldly when it comes to gender

Published 18/01/2014 | 02:30

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Davos in numbers
Enda Kenny...Enda Kenny, prime minister of Ireland, gestures as he speaks during a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. The overarching theme of the meeting, which will take place from Jan. 25 to 29, is "The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models". (AP Photo/Michel Euler)...I
Enda Kenny at the World Economic Forum in Davos, two years ago

Next week, the Swiss ski resort of Davos plays host to the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) event that brings together an eclectic mix of global leaders, cultural icons and business movers and shakers.

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From Wednesday to Saturday, it's an opportunity for intense networking and promoting the ideal that the aims of business, the environment and the world's population -- rich and poor -- can be aligned. It's a line that's an increasingly tough sell, even for the boatload of top-tier business men and women who descend on the town.

Meanwhile, the Davos meeting also underscores another great divide -- the number of women around the world in senior political and business leadership roles. The WEF points out that just 15pc of this year's 2,500-plus attendees are women, down from 17pc last year.

The WEF says that this compares to 8pc of global heads of government who are female, 5pc of the world's heads of state, 17pc of ministerial positions, 11pc of company board seats and 15pc of top positions in trade unions around the world.

ARGUMENT

The reasons for the number of women in those top roles may be numerous, while the argument for and against enforced corporate gender quotas remains hotly contested.

Yet, on the face of it, it would seem that the WEF could have quite easily ensured that it had a higher percentage of female attendees -- by inviting more women. But to be fair, in some of the categories of attendees, many are. Its list of 'Global Shapers' attending this year's event totals 50 people and half of those are women.

The WEF can also do little about who happens to be an elected politician in a particular country, and the reality is that the majority of those are male.

But in terms of inviting female business people, maybe it needs to broaden its net beyond Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. While their participation in Davos may be worthwhile, it starts to look as if they're among the only heavy-hitting female executives that the WEF could find, leading to an assumption that perhaps the organisers didn't look very hard.

And of the 2,500 or so delegates who'll arrive next week for the event from 98 countries (there are almost 200 countries on the planet), the most represented regions remain the US and Europe, with 670 from the former and closer to 1,000 from the latter. From the world's two most populous countries -- India and China -- just 212 delegates will travel to Davos: 88 from China and 124 from India.

The numbers can be skewed a bit too, however, as in Ireland's case. While the official Davos figures state that just four people from Ireland will attend, the number of Irish people who'll be there is higher.

The number of participants from Ireland doesn't reflect Irish people living in other countries who'll be there.

So Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan, Bono and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will be joined by a number of other Irish businesspeople, including Denis O'Brien and Paul Meehan of Bain & Co.

Irish Independent

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