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Power women at the World Economic Forum, Davos

The annual pilgrimage to Davos wrapped up yesterday as the world’s most influential leaders departed the mountain top village with snow boots and solutions to the global economic crisis in toe (or so they say). Just 17% of this year’s snow boots though belonged to female delegates attending Davos, accounting for only 442 of the overall 2,200 attendees.

Women’s representation at the World Economic Forum remains static, as do the media headlines recycled year after year. Unable to conquer my jetlag, I found the same caption, “Where Are the Women of Davos?” headlining Davos coverage for over five years.

Significant barriers to women’s advancement remain. Yet disappointing statistics shouldn’t completely overshadow the areas of progress for women in leadership that are brought to the forefront at global gatherings.

This year, over 20 leaders from Forbes’ list of the world’s 100 Most Powerful Women attended the Forum. Most striking, two Power Women – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde – led and dominated Davos discussions. Business luminaries, politicians, and international leaders alike all looked to these women for answers to stem Europe’s economic crisis. Despite their markedly different points of view, Merkel and Lagarde are not only tasked with saving the eurozone, but their actions influence the fate of the global economy. Just watching the role of these women at Davos serves as one of the greatest bright spots for the future of women in leadership.

Another bright spot? This Forum marked the fifth year that Ernst & Young and Forbes paid tribute to the members of Forbes’ Power Women’s list at Davos. Over 400 global leaders came together in celebration of the women whose roles exemplify the dynamic and diverse ways women wield influence around the world today.

“The first year we did the reception with Forbes, we thought it would be a great way to celebrate the world’s most powerful women that were at Davos. But frankly, we also wanted to send a subtle message that there weren’t enough and yet if you put them all in the room, you’d have a different experience — in our view, a better one!”, said Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair of Ernst & Young. “We fundamentally believe that having more women in leadership will lead to better outcomes, as the research shows and as we know through our own experience. Better outcomes for society, for companies, and for countries.”

In this spirit, Ernst & Young CEO Jim Turley and Forbes recognized nine of Davos’ Power Women who included:

> Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook (#5)

> Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (#21)

> Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (#30)

> Arianna Huffington, Editor-In-Chief, AOL Huffington Post Media Group (#31)

> Helene Gayle, CEO, Care USA (#36)

> Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Location and Local Services, Google (#42)

> Mary Erdoes, CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management (#74)

> Dr. Drew Faust, President, Harvard University(#83)

> Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Ernst & Young (#100)

These Power Women underscored that today, women have the unprecedented opportunity to exert influence in new, and at times, unconventional ways — ways that no longer demand leading a major corporation, or controlling a large payroll, or serving in political office. Cultural and humanitrian impact can mean as much as money and political influence. Today’s rapidly
evolving environment has created far more ways to have impact, particularly for women. Just look at seismic tech innovations and social media, not to mention the Power Women behind those platforms that have forever transformed influence and connectivity — the fundamental drivers of power.

As Jim Turley and I honored each of the Power Women on stage, I shared a fitting passage from my great-grandfather, B.C. Forbes, written in the debut issue of Forbes Magazine in 1917. On the premier cover of Forbes, my great-grandfather ran a prominent headline proclaiming, a new “Unique Department: Woman in Business.” The on-going feature was dedicated to “Her life in business…and her place in the business of life.” B.C. later went on to share:

But what struck me most when reading my great-grandfather’s words? B.C. launched this dedicated department for women in business two years before women gained the right to vote in this country. His mission still rings true nearly a century later and the Power Women honored Friday night are inspiring examples of this shared vision.

Humbled to be in the company of these amazing leaders, I was also reminded that we all face the same life foibles after one power woman kindly informed me that I had lipstick on my teeth. Thanking her, she grabbed my arm – “Promise to do the same with me. Last week I spent an entire meeting with ‘So and So’ (a renowned CEO) and can you believe that no one even bothered to tell me I had a piece of tomato stuck right on my front tooth.” What a night!

Source: Forbes
Writer: Moira Forbes

Follow me @moiraforbes and subscribe to me on Facebook.

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