(Read more: Davos 'excess'? Not where I'm sitting)
Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and chief operating officer of Facebook, told the conference at a BBC event: "There's a chicken and egg going on. We need better public and corporate policies. We need more women in leadership roles to get those policies."
Of course, Davos is reflective of a broader problem of underrepresentation of women on boards.
"WEF can't manufacture CEOs," Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, a group of the most powerful women in the world, and a senior advisor to Goldman Sachs, told CNBC.
"Their delegates are reflective of who's on boards."
Liswood argued that women need to stop "ritual mitigation" by being afraid to make their opinions clear—but that their bosses also need to stop thinking that women who put themselves forward are pushy.
It is also important that women stop "subsidising" their male partners' ambitions—and that the social policies are in place to enable them to do so, she said.
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Much of the debate was focused on women in the developed world, who are often in much stronger positions than those in emerging markets.
"Women around the world are key in raising their families out of poverty," Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former deputy President of South Africa, pointed out.
In the corporate world, part of the problem is that "leadership is associated with masculine expectations," according to Sandberg.
"People have archetypes of what leaders look like," Liswood said.
One controversial potential solution for this is boardroom quotas for female representation, often viewed as a blunt instrument for dealing with the problem.