Women in Davos are more than a percentage

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was among the 600 female participants (out of a total of 3,000) at the 49th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland © KEYSTONE/ VALENTIN FLAURAUD

There is so much talk about the lack of women at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos that their stories and achievements often get lost. Numbers are important, but as 16-year-old Greta Thunberg showed today, it only takes one woman (or in this case girl) to inspire millions.

This content was published on January 25, 2019

“In places like Davos, people like to tell success stories, but their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. On climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed,” the young Swedish climate activist told reporters in the Swiss resort on Friday.

Twenty-two percent of  participants at this year’s gathering in the Swiss resort were women, according to the WEFExternal link, higher than in the past.

Women leaders at WEF range from award-winning filmmakers to activists fighting for justice for victims of torture. They are older women like wildlife champion and primatologist Jane Goodall and younger leaders like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

While WEF is known for its sea of suits and mostly male deal-cinching handshakes, women do much of the heavy-lifting when it comes to frank discussions on the challenges of our times and brainstorming at WEF spaces like the “Female Quotient”.

The temptation for those who come to Davos is to pack their agenda with bilateral meetings and, in the case of participants, panel discussions. But much of the added value comes from chance encounters.

These are three women spoke to this week on how they are working to close the gender gap and push forward the women’s rights agenda.

We met Karen Tse, founder of International Bridges for Justice, between sessions in the Congress Centre. This is where much of the magic happens although most events are off-limits to media. (Journalists bunker down in the media village to monitor the global elites on screens and try to catch them at specific briefings.)

Tse is an American of Chinese descent living in Geneva. She is at the helm of an organization that pushes for legal rights for vulnerable groups in developing countries. She told us about her work and the importance of tackling unconscious bias against women, a problem that cuts across borders.

Christina Shapiro, vice president of corporate engagement at Goldman Sachs

We bumped into Cristina Shapiro, vice president of corporate engagement at Goldman Sachs, while filing videos from the WEF demonstration. She is focused on “10,000 women”, a global initiative to foster economic growth by giving female entrepreneurs business education and access to capital.

The programme keeps expanding to new countries and educational materials are now available on the Coursera platformExternal link. She also told us about the Goldman Sachs first for-profit investing initiative with a gender lens.The goal is to provide over $500 million (CHF498 million) to female-led or managed companies and women fund mangers.  

“What we have found is that women have that entrepreneurial spirit. They have that drive, they are creative, they multitask very effectively,” she told “What they have lacked is… sometimes the confidence, sometimes the core business skills.”

Her advice to women navigating male-dominated industries? “Don’t be afraid. Women typically apply for jobs when they feel they are overqualified whereas men apply for jobs when they have only 70 percent of the skills that are required.”

Sharmeen Obaid, double Oscar-winner, the latest for her 2015 film A Girl in the River – The price of ForgivenessExternal link, which highlights the issue of honor killings. Her previous Oscar was for a short-documentary about acid attacks in her home country.

Her advice to women? If doors are not opening for you, kick them open.

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