THE BLOG
01/30/2015 05:06 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

What This Davos Woman Has to Say About Davos Women

I'm still recovering from the whirlwind known as the World Economic Forum in Davos. While it is logistically challenging and a test of patience, stamina and endurance, it is also an incredible opportunity to connect with a broad range of leaders from all sectors and all corners of the world.

As the CEO of an international development and humanitarian organization working to solve problems of poverty and inequity, I always welcome the chance to engage in discussions that help me reflect on ways to continue to grow our impact as well as to build partnerships critical for our mission.

However, like any such gathering, the World Economic Forum needs to continue to evolve to meet the needs of a dynamic world. We spend a lot of time discussing inclusion and parity, for example, yet the percentage of women attendees this year was a meager 17 percent -- two percent more than last year but still not enough. Women's voices -- our experiences and contributions, our ideas, opinions -- are simply too valuable to be under-represented, too powerful not to be heard. Sadly, Davos reflects a larger reality that finds women disproportionately represented in leadership roles.

In 2014, for example, women occupied only 19.2 percent of S&P 500 board seats in the United States, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that annually tracks women in top corporate positions.

A year earlier, Catalyst found that only 14.6 percent of Fortune 500 executive officer positions were filled by women.

Yet, as a recent Catalyst study revealed, companies with a higher representation of women in senior management positions financially outperform companies with proportionally fewer women at the top.

I would argue that we could apply a similar correlation to development work in general and to the Davos forum in particular. The more we seek and listen to women's voices, the more likely we are to deliver lasting change that benefits men and women alike, the more likely we are to balance the conversation, to uncover sustainable solutions, not to the exclusion of men, of course, but rather in conjunction with them.

I've encountered the value of that voice time and again through my own work with CARE, the organization I lead.

CARE focuses on empowering women and girls as the most effective means of fighting poverty, because we know that an empowered girl or woman uplifts everyone. She loosens poverty's grip on herself, but also on other girls and women, on boys, on men, on entire communities. I understand the power of women's voices, and I look forward to seeing -- and hearing! -- more of them in Davos, as more women take the helm of corporations and organizations, as they sit on boards and fill other leadership roles.

Everyone at the World Economic Forum will benefit from increased diversity in years to come, much as I benefited this year by participating in a first-of-its-kind session titled "2015 -- the future is female."

Convened by the ONE Campaign, I co-hosted, along with Melinda Gates and Sheryl Sandberg a discussion with a small group of female leaders about the opportunities for women in 2015, a pivotal year for global commitments on ending poverty and building a more sustainable future.

Key points included the economic impact and consequences of gender inequality. If women had equal access to resources as men, for example, 100-150 million fewer people would suffer from chronic hunger.

We also discussed that women's issues should be central, not relegated to separate agendas. We agreed that women are the best activists and that we need women leaders everywhere and at every level.

Interestingly, I moderated another discussion at Davos with female film director Haifaa Al Mansour about "Wadjda," the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first made by a woman Saudi director. Fittingly, the film tells the story of a young woman who is determined to raise enough money to buy a bicycle in a society that deems bikes a threat to a girl's virtue.

Her story is similar to so many women I've met in my work with CARE. Game-changing women who beat incredible odds under the most dire circumstances -- women like 18-year-old Mary, whom I met in a refugee camp in war-torn South Sudan late last year. When fighting broke out in her community, she fled to a United Nations base where now she works with CARE to teach others in the camp safe hygiene practices. She told me that she's proud to be able to give back to her community.

These are the kinds of women whose voices I bring with me to a gathering like Davos. Their experiences, their challenges, their triumphs, all should inform our discussions there. We can learn from them and from one another, so that through a collective and diverse voice of our own we can even more effectively tackle the issues that change the world -- for women, men, girls and boys alike.