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As world leaders descend upon Davos, the gender debate rumbles on

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Some of the world's most powerful, influential leaders will descend upon snowy Davos in Switzerland this week, yet how many of those voicing their opinions will be women? The answer: still a far cry from 50 percent.

It's an issue the World Economic Forum (WEF) has been keen on addressing. In 2011, the non-profit introduced its very own gender quota, requesting strategic partners – made up of 100 companies at the time – to bring at least one woman for every five senior executives that attended.

And there's been an upturn in female attendance since. Out of the 3,000 participants attending WEF 2017, 21 percent will be made up of women, compared to the reported 9-15 percent figure seen during 2001 to 2005, and the 18 percent seen in 2016.


Aside from introducing its own quota on the event, WEF continues to release reports and advice that raises awareness on improving gender equality; with its 2016 Global Gender Gap report revealing that at current rates it may take until 2186, for men and women to reach economic equality.

"Society has a long way to go towards gender parity, but at the very least we should be ensuring equal pay for equal work," Barri Rafferty, president of global communications company Ketchum, told CNBC over email when commenting on the figures.

For Ketchum's Rafferty, she is less concerned about equal representation at the Forum itself, but more concerned about "faster progress in moving women up the ranks of corporations, non-profits and government entities."

"Although the statistics show a more diverse leadership team is good for business, female representation in the top ranks is increasing at an alarmingly slow pace," she added.

With this year's forum circumnavigating around "Responsive and Responsible Leadership", leaders will be asked to weigh in on what makes a strong, effective chief while looking at how leaders should respond to pressing global issues, including those concerning gender.


Leading ladies attending Davos 2017

At Davos, female leaders from several fields will be attending, from politics and business, to technology and culture.


(From L) International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, British Finance Minister George Osborne, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda shake hands after a session of the World Economic Forum annual meeting on January 23, 2016.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
(From L) International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, British Finance Minister George Osborne, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda shake hands after a session of the World Economic Forum annual meeting on January 23, 2016.

On the political and economic side, female leaders of Bangladesh, Norway, Mauritius and the U.K. will be heading to Davos, along with Sweden's finance minister, IMF's Managing Director and World Bank's CEO.

Alphabet's CFO, Facebook's COO, Lloyd's of London CEO, Thrive Global's Founder and General Motors CEO are just some of the female leaders voicing their opinion for business. Meanwhile, Mission 2020's Christiana Figueres and Sustainable Energy for All's Rachel Kyte will be advocating for climate change solutions.

With leadership coming in all shapes and sizes, representatives from the arts will also be at Davos, including author Elif Shafak, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, and singer Shakira.

What’s on the gender agenda at Davos?

Around 400 sessions are set to take place at WEF 2017, with the meeting's discussions spanning from the global economy and leadership; to sports, health care and technological disruption. As for gender, it will definitely be talked about – both inside and outside of the forum's official panels.

Here are just some of the panels penciled in for the week:

  • Fourth Industrial Revolution: The Impact on Women
  • Discover a World beyond X and Y Genes
  • Can Women Have It All?
  • Disrupting the Status Quo of Gender Roles

WEF will also be recognizing the achievements by leading artists, including contributions by Shakira and Anne-Sophie Mutter at the "The 23rd Annual Crystal Awards".


Closing the gap

While it is yet to be seen what main topics will dominate Davos, the subject of how receptive global leaders are will be under scrutiny, with more than half of 2017's sessions addressing tactics for adopting greater social inclusion and human development.

"I believe it continues to be important for the World Economic Forum to support the gender parity agenda, but it's also critical to provide more support for female delegates, as they are still in the minority as attendees," Rafferty said.

When discussing female leadership and how it's represented at the forum, Rafferty said WEF should consider how the forum and its participants can "help women network not only with other female leaders, but also the top male leaders."

"Ideally, in decades to come we will not need to have conversations about gender parity because there will be tremendous leaps forward," said Rafferty.

"But for now, it is imperative that we all take a stance on this issue and double down to help bring about change."


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