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Why Are There So Few Women Attending the World Economic Forum?

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There have been several articles recently about the lack of women attending one of the most important global events of the year: the World Economic Forum. Back in 2011 at the APEC Summit held in San Francisco, Hillary Clinton spoke at length about Women being the next global economy. Clearly, from that talk and other studies, the only way we can achieve economic vitality on a global scale is to "unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come. And that vital source of growth is women. Because by increasing women's participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies." So it is hard to believe that WEF has still not found a way to include more women in one of the most important and powerful forums in the world.

What is interesting is that the forum, in an effort to increase the representation of women, asked companies who send five delegates to include one woman, and the result was that companies only sent four delegates -- the ratio of women to men actually decreased after this request. Hannah Kain, CEO of ALOM and Watermark Board member commented:

I think the problem is that many of the participants are 'grandfathered' in. Since this is such a prestigious place to go and network, nobody is giving up a slot. Organizations can chose between tradition (grandfathering in) and recognizing the past on the one hand, or embracing innovation or diversity on the other hand. Kudos for the organizers to think about gender diversity, but they are sitting between two chairs here. Quotas are in general problematic. If they organized a high-level women-only event in conjunction with the symposium, then more organizations might actually 'voluntarily' send women such that they could participate in both events.

I agree with Hannah's assessment and recommendation, and it is reminiscent in some ways to the challenge we have in seeing more women on boards. There are plenty of qualified candidates, but unless there is a commitment to better gender balanced boards, and some form of term limits are imposed, there is no space at the table for women, on boards or at this most prestigious and important event.