Where Are All the Women in Davos?

To register for this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, delegates had to fill in a profile page that is preset with the silhouette of a shadowy man. A year after imposing a quota on the biggest companies to encourage more women to attend, that image still fits the gender profile of more than 80 percent of delegates. Despite the quota, just 17 percent of those gathered from the world’s business and political elites are women. This is the highest yet in the 40-odd years of the event, up from 16 percent in 2011—and just 9 percent in 2002. But it still gives a useful guide to the headway women are making at the top. I’ve been to Davos once before when I tackled the late nights and icy roads while five months pregnant. I thought once was enough. But five years on, I am back, wanting to find out how much has changed. Saadia Zahidi, the head of constituents at WEF who has spearheaded the program of increasing diversity, says it has actively sought out women for panels (some 20 percent of all panelists are women), made the issue of gender the subject of more sessions and added a gender lens to general discussions on the economy or health. Her group was also responsible for the introduction of a quota for “strategic partners”—the top 100 companies attending the mountainside event—which dictates that one in every five passes has to be a woman. A fifth of them decided to send just four people.