Davos: More women in 2015–but don’t get excited

Sheryl Sandberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Michael Wuertenberg | World Economic Forum
Sheryl Sandberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

There will be more women at this year's gathering of the global business and politics elite in Davos, after a controversial fall in female delegates in 2014.

Last year, the proportion of female attendees dropped for the first time in the meeting's history, to just 15 percent.

In 2015, according to World Economic Forum (WEF) statistics, 17 percent of participants are women, and although this is nowhere near parity, it does mark a move upwards again.

WEF always includes high-profile women like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg or Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer as co-chairs during the Davos meeting. This year, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, and Katherine Garrett-Cox, chief executive of Alliance Trust, are also both co-chairs.

There will be sessions devoted to gender and diversity, but still, the proportion of women attendees continues to make it vulnerable to criticism.

Calls for companies and organizations to do more to promote women are nothing new – although there are plenty of interpretations of why women often don't do as well as men with similar abilities in the workplace.

"Without a little nudge, it's easy to gravitate toward colleagues and leaders who think, look and act like we do," Beth Brooke-Marciniak, EY global vice chair of public policy, said as part of a report by the consultancy called "Women. Fast forward: The time for gender parity is now."

"Unconscious bias on the part of those in power is undoubtedly partly responsible for the glacial pace of change."

The event's elite status can be seen in the fact that 30 percent of participants are business chief executives, while heads of state and government account for 2 percent of participants.

The list of attendees at Davos also shows changes in the geopolitical landscape.

There is a high-profile Ukrainian delegation, including President Petro Poroshenko, and Natalia Ann Jaresko, the country's finance minister.

Yet it also paints a picture of continued dominance by Western powers. Americans make up 27 percent of participants, with the U.K. and Switzerland each accounting for 10 percent of those attending. Russia and China, in contrast, account for 2 percent each of participants.

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle