World Economic Forum in Davos – Is Women’s Empowerment Finally On The Global Agenda

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We were invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos and were curious to see if women’s empowerment sits on the global agenda. We were surprised in many ways. Female participation numbers are going up and leaders of the world’s biggest organisations are paying attention but are we seeing real change?

Once a year world’s leaders gather in the Swiss mountains to solve world’s big economic problems. DrivenWoman got invited to the be part of the discussion on diversity and inclusion at the Equality Lounge, hosted by The Female Quotient. We learned that the world is changing fast but are still questioning if what we heard was all talk or real action.

Estimated 22% of World Economic Forum participants were women, up from only 15% in 2014. We find these figures incredibly low given that women influence 83% of all consumer spending decisions in the US, by 2025 women are expected to own 50% of private financial wealth, and in the UK they already own 48% which is expected to rise to 60% by 2025

The key take outs:

1) Big firms have finally woken up to gender issues and inclusion

Let us paint the picture. The world’s biggest companies such as BBC, P&G, Unilever, JPMorgan, Bloomberg, IPG and Deloitte all showcased their efforts to make the workplace more inclusive. Most had sent their male CEOs to take the stage and showcased how they are finally taking equality seriously and indeed, it’s one of the key business goals. 

“Measure what you treasure”

The top firms have linked financial rewards to meeting equality targets and are closely monitoring progress. Accountability is the key to making things happen. Training for unconscious bias seems to be common place and offered to all employees in most of these firms. And additional training is offered to female candidates for the top positions and positions take longer to fill so that there’s enough time to find suitable female candidates.

Equality is a conscious choice and these top companies see it clearly as a business opportunity. Diverse teams deliver better results and customer loyalty. All companies present were very dedicated to delivering this change. Female Quotient has created a tool kit for delivering equality at the workplace.

“If you can SEE HER, you can BE HER.”

The conversations about how women are portrayed in the media were very impressive.  Unilever’s study found that 2% of ads women were portrayed as intelligent, in 1% as leaders, 1% of ads portrayed women having a sense of humour. And only 10% of all advertising content is created by women directors.

Watch this video from Davos about the power of #SEEHER and the change big blue-chip companies such as P&G and media companies such as NBCUniversal are making to the way we see women and girls. ‘#seeher and Road to 2020

Project Unstereotype

Unstereotype is a UN Women lead cross-industry program. 10% of advertisers are part of this alliance and represent $50 billion advertising spend yearly. All big advertisers now rate their campaigns based on diversity score aiming for scores higher than 100, which means characters in the ads are diverse. More progressive ads perform better commercially so there’s a clear business case for unstereotyping.

Big problem still remains that women get much more abuse in the media than men and in countries such as Pakistan and online violence easily turns into off-line violence keeping female voices away from the public eye.

2) Feminine values not fully embraced yet

Values of transparency and building trust were on everyone’s lips as digitalisation puts pressure on creating a solid foundation for change. Qualities of inclusive leaders are: transparency, authenticity and leaders who recognise they have weaknesses too. Inclusive leaders go into every situation expecting the best and intentionally building an inclusive culture.

“Diversity is easy. It’s like inviting everyone to the party. Inclusion is when you invite everyone to dance.” Terry Cooper, Chief Inclusion Officer, Deloitte

Yet, we were left feeling the door is open for women but the system is still very masculine. Success has not been re-defined. For instance, what does ‘executive presence’ mean? Confidence and linear forcefulness? Or listening and allowing?

If you want it you can have it

Women need to re-write the rules. Values of vulnerability and transparency are coming in but it now depends on the women who get in if they dare to take a risk and start changing the culture to embrace feminine values.

Watch this video from the Equality Lounge where leaders discuss Why Caring, Purpose, and Equality at Work Matter in the Digital Age (and a comment from our chief-doer Miisa Mink).

We thought the missing piece was discussion on what women can do to change things faster for themselves. Princess Martha Louise of Norway was the only speaker who boldly addressed what women can do and had a very ‘DrivenWoman’ type of message for women:

“You must stop criticising yourselves. Stop being a victim. Stop trying to be a man. We tried it. it does’t work. Let the men around you support you. Create your world the feminine way with love, be ready to receive and build communities.” 

When purpose meets passion we become unstoppable

Our biggest obstacles aren’t the men around us, it’s our own internal fear of being visible. The panelists offered assurances that all we need is to build self-belief. But of course, it’s easier said than done! (This is why we created DrivenWoman and Doers Academy! It’s the missing piece in this conversation. We can build confidence fast if we surrender to the process and take committed small steps outside our comfort zone.)

Amy Cuddy offered also great tips on accessing your power and presence. “When we feel powerful we take action.” Watch Amy’s TED talk ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

We women must stop making ourselves small. We do this not to upset patriarchy, but by doing that we end up missing all life’s opportunities.

3) Working woman is still a superwoman

“Women are fierce prioritisers and able to juggle their time. They can be the architects of their careers and lives. There needs to be more flexibility.” Women were hailed as the magicians of managing our lives. The ones who can wash laundry while taking a conference call, yet the word ‘mother’ was not once mentioned on the panel discussions and the fact we still have to be perfect at home and in the office was not tackled head-on.

When JP Morgan’s Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon was asked about work-life-balance for women he started applauding his amazing three daughters who have been able to carve out really interesting and successful careers for themselves, and how wonderfully they manage their families and cook dinners whilst feeding a baby who has a sesame allergy!

Only Andrew Cohen, CEO of JP Morgan’s international private bank offered a practical solution saying that Swiss female workers at the bank can work from home because kids come home from school midday on Wednesdays in Switzerland.  

Men have not had to find practical solutions for managing their career and family because we women have dutifully done it for them. We women must stop accepting a daily struggle as a norm – whether at home or in the office – and start putting our foot down to ask men do their 50%.

4) Male champions and toxic masculinity

Most men in leadership positions are not intentionally bad, just unaware. Luckily, The Equality Lounge had a fantastic line up of men who created an atmosphere of hope. We were left with a feeling that things are really changing, and changing fast. Men are as committed to equality as we are, they just come from their own angle.

But there’s a backlash from #metoo movement we need to deal with. 50% of US male leaders say they don’t want to be alone in a room with a female colleague or go on business trips. This pushes women out of important private conversations and decision making.

Watch this brilliant conversation ‘Male Champions in the Wake of #metoo‘ with Mark Thompson, CEO of New York Times and Andrew Cohen, CEO of JP Morgan International Private Bank for more insights.

Unstereotype men

59 percent of men believe they should act strong even if they feel scared, and nearly half think they shouldn’t ask for help with their problems and that they should control their girlfriends or wives. Research firm Promundo conducted the study for deodorant brand AXE who is combating what it’s now calling “toxic masculinity” and its debilitating effects on young men.

The CEO of Promundo, Gary Barker, was on the panel and rightly noted that “Women can’t occupy 50% positions of power unless men take up 50% of care work at home”  P&G’s #sharetheload ad takes a stance for men to start putting in the hours at home.

5) Talk vs walk

Pink it and shrink it! It will be interesting to see how fast the slogans and ppt slide promises are translated into real life. In Switzerland – women lose CHF 7 billion due to the pay gap every year. Only CHF 3 million budget is dedicated from the government to tackle the problem. This is simply pathetic!

The big consultancy firms sounded like the best places on the planet to work for but after the official panel talks we spoke with one female partner and found out she was the only woman partner out of 40 at her firm!

A female leader from one of the media companies present in Davos Equality Lounge recently told us about her burn out, and many other women are having enough of the corporate culture, no matter how high they are allowed to climb.

Some conclusions

The most positive development is the fast-changing visual representation of women and minorities in the media. Advertising has a big impact on how we see society and what are the appropriate norms of behaviour. It was clear that the big advertisers have seen the light and are changing things fast. Gillette’s ‘The Best The Man Can Be‘ shows the way.

It’s still very much a patriarchal model but now women have more opportunities within it. We didn’t see enough evidence to conclude that the ecosystem has become a female and mother-friendly, but that may be the next step and hopefully coming soon. 

You can have it if you want it is the message. Now we women must ask ourselves, what is it that we want?

We hear from our members both in the corporate world and in business, that women want more than just a career. We want a holistic approach to our lives where all aspects are incorporated: opportunity for us to contribute to the society in meaningful ways, earn a good living, have time to care for those who we love and time to nurture our soul.

Shelley Zalis and the team at Female Quotient are doing a brilliant job addressing these issues, and we all want to see much faster change. According to the World Economic Forum, the road to pay parity is still 200 years.

Do you have time to wait for the world to change or are you ready to start changing your own world? 


DrivenWoman is an empowerment program for ambitious women who want to achieve their dreams and goals fast.

Join our free community the Doers Tribe.

Friday, January 25th, 2019

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