Heidi Miller

A female quota at Davos? Really?

January 14, 2011: 2:06 PM ET

The World Economic Forum is mandating its strategic partners to bring at least one woman with them to Davos. Why have we not gotten there on our own yet?

Indra Nooyi

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi will have a bit more female company this year.

I'm not one to normally wade into the arena of gender politics. I'm worried I'll be too insensitive. Or somehow inappropriate. And at least as far as workplace equality goes, I am inclined to think it's a topic better left to female journalists. (Is that already inappropriate?)

But news that the 100 corporate "strategic partners" of this year's World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland – a group that includes companies like Goldman Sachs (GS), Deutsche Bank (DB), and News Corp. (NWS) — would be required to bring at least one woman among their five delegates to the conference got me thinking. I have a two year-old daughter, so now I have more of a stake in this whole game. Should I be happy for her as a result of this news? Or frustrated that the gender gap is still so wide that a quota is even necessary?

I do think it's a pretty sorry state of affairs when world economic leaders are running their annual meeting invite-list like a grade school gym class kickball team-selection process (one girl per team on the field at all times!). On the other hand, maybe something had to be done: Women only made up between 9% and 15% of attendees in Davos in the years from 2001 to 2005, and just a shade higher, at 17%, last year. While one in five would seem to be not too much of a stretch with some gentle encouragement, apparently the WEF thought the time for that had passed. In 2011, they're doing things by diktat. More

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