Last week, global leaders descended upon the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland where the theme was Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.
WEF, or Davos as it’s commonly referred to, was started in 1971 by Klaus Schwab, a business professor at the University of Geneva. He invited 444 business executives from Western Europe to share business practices in order to address global economic issues. The conference and its purpose have evolved over time — and it’s now one of the most elite conferences in the world, an event where political leaders, business executives, and nonprofit representatives convene to shape the global agenda.
As you might imagine, women — and the issues women face around the world — have historically been overlooked at Davos. While female representation at WEF remains low (women made up just 24% percent of participants this year), women have managed to break down barriers to access. In fact, there were more women than ever before at this year’s gathering: Greta Thurnburg was the talk of the town, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leven made opening remarks, and many more high-profile women joined including Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, and Sheryl Sandberg.
Outside of the official WEF Congress Center, there were also a handful of events where people gathered for unplugged, real conversations about how to amplify female voices and elevate women. One such destination was the Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge®, a place that has brought leaders together in Davos to activate solutions for the past five years and counting. I realized early on that, if you tap into the power of the pack, you don’t need a white badge [the most elite Davos status] to advance equality — you can do it from anywhere. As I always say, “A woman alone has power; collectively, we have impact.”
Women around the world know that speaking truth to power changes attitudes. These personal anecdotes, these “equality hacks,” give the rest of us a roadmap of how to navigate uncomfortable and inappropriate situations.
Working in partnership with Refinery29, I asked five powerful women who came into the Equality Lounge if they had ever faced gender discrimination and how they navigated through it.
Read below for some of the equality hacks they shared.
Claudia Romo Edelman, Founder of We Are All Human and Co-Host of Global GoalsCast: “I am a Mexican who was in Austria and the German-Swiss border for the beginning of my career — not just without the language or skillset. I was also one of the only women, at that time, at the World Economic Forum (18 years ago).
It is also something we can overcome. I got advice early on in my life that you need to have a seat at the table and, if there isn’t a chair for you, just go pull one up so you can have a place.”
Julianne Hough, Founder and CEO of KINRGY Expanded Fitness: “I remember feeling like, ‘Why did I take this job?’ when, in my gut, I actually knew the type of experience I was going to have before I signed on. Eventually, I realized, ‘Ok, I do have a voice. I do have a platform. It is my responsibility to speak up.’ So, I went directly to that person [challenging me] and I confronted them. It actually made them respect me more and the dynamic shifted.
Jill Ellis, Former Coach of the United States Womens’ National Soccer Team: “I used to coach at UCLA and every single time I would walk onto a soccer field, the referee would walk straight past me to my male assistant to ask him how he was doing. I was kind of just like, ‘Hey, I’m right here, too.’ “We have to change the lens of how people see women. That’s why I’m so passionate about getting more (female) coaches into every sport."
Sheila Marcelo, Founder, Chairwoman and CEO of Care.com: “I got pregnant between my sophomore and junior year in college. I hid the fact that I was a new mother because I had this feeling that I wasn’t going to get the projects or jobs I wanted. I look at it in hindsight and think that a young man who was a father would have been deemed ‘responsible’ but I knew, as a woman, I would be deemed “distracted.’
I decided that in instances where bias comes in, I live by a Starfish Principle. If I can influence just one person by handling that moment with grace instead of anger...then they might not make the same assumptions the next time.”
Alexandra Trower, EVP of Global Communications for the Estee Lauder Company: “I think I’ve faced more gender discrimination than I’m actually aware of. There were these moments when I thought, ‘If I were a guy wearing a suit, I wouldn’t be having the same problems. But I’ve always made it very clear to people I work with that if we’re going to have a consensus-driven meeting then everyone needs to have a voice at the table.”