'Davos Man needs to listen': WEF 2018 co-chaired entirely by women

  • For the first time in the 48-year history of the World Economic Forum (WEF), this month's summit in Davos, Switzerland will be chaired entirely by women.
  • Seven women are co-chairing 2018's meeting.
  • The co-chairs of the event include International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, IBM Chief Executive Ginni Rometty and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

For the first time in the 48-year history of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the 2018 summit in Davos, Switzerland will be chaired entirely by women.

The move, a response to previous criticism about the prominence of men in the running of the event, will see seven women on 2018's meeting.

The co-chairs of the event include International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, IBM Chief Executive Ginni Rometty and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Solberg told CNBC ahead of the summit that it was "an honor to be asked to be co-chair at the World Economic Forum this year."

"I look forward to meeting representatives from the business sector, politics and various organizations to discuss how we can bring the world forward," she said.

"For my part, as Norwegian Prime Minister, I am particularly concerned about the need to create a sustainable welfare society. Inclusive growth is essential to reach that goal. This means, among other things, that both women and men must be able to take part in the labor market on equal terms."

'Davos Man'

WEF has faced criticism in the past that the summit, attended by more than 2,500 people including global leaders and policy makers, lacked female representation. This resulted in "Davos Man," a catch-all term with negative undertones used to refer to elite, wealthy men that attend the event.

Sharan Burrow, another of the forum's co-chairs, told CNBC that "Davos Man" must sit up and take notice.

"Davos Man needs to listen if he cares about his families and particularly about the question of equality and equal opportunity for his daughters," Burrow, general-secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said. "If you ask me whether this rise of the alpha leader has created a wave of misogyny, you know my answer is yes."

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg who is a co-chair of the World Economic Forum in 2018
Sean Gallup | Getty Images
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg who is a co-chair of the World Economic Forum in 2018

The other co-chairs this year are Isabelle Kocher, chief executive of French energy supplier ENGIE; Fabiola Gianotti, director-general of the Switzerland-based European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN); and Chetna Sinha, founder and chair of
India's Mann Deshi Foundation, which supports female entrepreneurs.

WEF said the co-chairs would "lend a strong voice to all parts of society, ensuring a multi-stakeholder approach to the program and eventually the impact of the annual meeting 2018," WEF said, adding that the women "represent both the public and private sectors, international organizations, organized labor, academia and science, as well as civil society and social entrepreneurship."

Gender pay gap

Despite the all-female line-up, women in senior roles in industry are still the exception rather than the norm and gender inequality remains a global problem, particularly the gender pay gap.

WEF published a report in November, "Global Gender Gap in 2017," which found that the gap in different spheres of society, including the economy, education and health, was still prominent and even deteriorating.

The report looked at 144 countries' progress towards gender parity across the economic, education, health and political empowerment fronts. It found that the "overall global gender gap can be closed in exactly 100 years" and that the most challenging gender gaps were in the economic and health spheres.

WEF noted that the gender pay pap was deteriorating and that "given the continued widening of the economic gender gap, it will now not be closed for another 217 years." According to PwC's Women in Work Index 2017, achieving pay parity in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) could increase total female earnings by $2 trillion.

Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics and a WEF contributor, told CNBC that society needed more women at senior levels of corporate life.

"There are still many places where women are paid differently for equal work at the same level (as men) and every decent organization should look at itself and make sure everyone's being paid equally. That's a minimum that everyone should be able to do immediately. Then the longer-term issue is about getting more women to a senior level."

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