I was in the lobby of the Steigenberg Belvedere waiting for my husband yesterday but there was nowhere to sit. Looking around I saw a Davos Wife resting on a crowded stairway. I joined her and, of course, we struck up a conversation about Women at Davos. I could tell by her comfy snow boots she had been coming for years.
She explained to me that I had it all wrong. Women are at not the bottom of the ladder at Davos but in fact are the ones who make it work. Here is why: speakers are invited so that they can be on panels but the businessmen come so they can take meetings and do deals.
“The World Economic Forum produces all this content but needs to create an audience for the invited speakers,” she said. “The women who come are equal to their husbands and equal in drive and so they self select.” Since they aren’t given a role in the conference they have nothing to do but go to the panels. That’s why the audiences for the sessions on health, arts, science and, to some extent philanthropy, are largely made up of Davos Wives. Davos would not function without these women.
I am all for being allowed to attend panels on “Personalized Medicine”, “Design for the New Reality” “Ensuring Elusive Growth” and “What If Another Bank Fails?”. But things have come to a pretty pass when a paid up Davos Wife (who is a business executive to boot) actually believes our role is simply to fill the seats. Nor do I do believe for a minute that this is what founder Klaus Schwab and his board have in mind for us.
The people that run the Davos meeting are trying hard to make it more woman friendly and they have many initiatives to prove it. But sometimes they just get it wrong: at the Thursday panel on “Women and Society” chaired by Laura Tyson, the male panelists outnumbered the females by two to one. When she saw it on the agenda, “I thought it was a f—-ing joke! “said one female Davos participant.