Davos 2019: 4 things we need for gender equality


The World Economic Forum 2019 took place in Davos on 22-25 January, and – in terms of gender parity – the stats were disappointing. Just 22% of attendees were women, an increase of just 1% from last year.

And while last year, thanks to the #MeToo movement, the gender pay gap had a prominent place in discussions, this year it was overshadowed by the US government shutdown and Brexit.

Nonetheless, the topic was still on the table, facilitated in no small part by advocacy group, The Female Quotient, which held two days of panel discussions, with topics ranging from ‘Male champions in the wake of #MeToo’ to ‘Six traits of an inclusive leader’. 

So, according to the leading voices in the world of economics today, what’s really needed to ‘close the gap’?

1. Change starts with parents

Thierry Léger, the CEO of Swiss Re Life Capital says he’s ‘not satisfied’ with where his company is in terms of gender equality but explains that as they are science-, engineering- and data-driven, the talent pool is male-dominated. ‘We put a lot of pressure on universities [to increase gender diversity in certain courses]… but we’d love to put pressure on parents too because I think it starts there,’ he says, going on to explain that it’s parents’ responsibility to ensure daughters are considering areas such as IT, for instance, if they’re good at maths.

2. Take 4 strategic steps - Shelley Zalis, CEO of advocacy group The Female Quotient says there are four things CEOs need to be doing:

1.     Conduct a pay audit to ensure people doing the same job are receiving the same pay

2.     Make parental leave mandatory so that women are less likely to disproportionately fall back

3.     Build KPIs on gender equality into financial performance metrics

4.     Ensure everyone ‘at the top’ has a conscious, committed mindset, dedicated to equality

3. Role models

Ann Cairns, Vice-Chairman of MasterCard and highest-ranking woman at the company (who, incidentally, was mistaken for an accompanying spouse at Davos) says ‘we want to see some visible role models… gender quality is not a fashion thing’, explaining it would be much easier to recruit women into leadership roles if they were already visibly occupied by women. Other measures taken by Mastercard to increase gender parity include standardising parental leave globally – men are allowed two months’ full pay; women are entitled to four.

4. Call out unacceptable behaviour

JP Morgan chief, Jamie Dimon says men are reluctant to engage with women, citing an example of a meeting where a senior exec chatted with the men about sports and ignored the women. ‘I went to see him and said “this is inappropriate”,’ said Dimon. ‘I’ve seen this with many managing men –you’ve got your friends, your buddies… if you are a leader you cannot do that.’