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Davos’s gender inequality problem shows why Davos matters

AP Photo/Michel Euler
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Does Davos matter? It’s an old and contentious question. But it’s one that has traction as the power brokers at the World Economic Forum meeting this week turn their lofty gazes to the issue of gender parity.

Just 17% of the attendees of are women, the same level as two years ago. And a WEF report concluded that women won’t have parity in the workforce for another 80 years if we stay on our current path.

But equal opportunity for women is high on the agenda here, with a dozen public and private panels, meals, and other events devoted to the issue, and celebrity champions such as the actor Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame).

Veteran Davos attendee Rick Goings, CEO of Tupperware, says that gender issues were never mentioned during his first year at the forum, a dozen years ago. This year, at a lunch his company sponsored on the subject, it was standing room only; even former heads of state were turned away.

There is a strong business case for closing the gender gap, Goings says: For instance, many of the company’s superstar saleswomen are in countries where their opportunities outside the home are otherwise limited. This is the kind of clear business message that resonates with the Davos crowd, and one that’s not always apparent amidst the platitudes in the forum’s public sessions.

But will anything come of it, or is women’s equality just the latest Davos fad, to be displaced next year by another equally worthy and intractable cause? No, Goings says. “We discuss what to do after this lunch. I’ve now got a group of people around me who are also all-in on this—we watch what they’re doing and they see what we’re doing.” Those initial connections were made in the Alps. “That’s why Davos matters,” he says.

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