Women of the World Economic Forum at Davos Lean In
WEF is located in Davos, a town in Switzerland. Companies that weren’t invited to the WEF are still striving to be present in Davos, as they want to share ideas and get closer to the global elite at the time of the conference. They set up their pop up shops on the main street called the Promenade and organize dinners and parties at the WEF’s secured hotels to bring together their executives and guests. They call it the Davos Conference Week, and it occurs in parallel with the main WEF meeting event. People who go to the Congress Centre, where the WEF event takes place, afterwards participate in numerous receptions at the WEF secured hotels and across the town. Over the past few years, the presence of women at Davos has become more and more significant.
When it comes to technology, some of the events and topics of the next Davos conference are focused on: Digitalization; Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
The Davos events are hosted by over 500 top companies and startups, including: IBM, Alibaba, Forbes, PwC, Wisekey, Tradeshift, Consensys, and Harvard. For example, Crypto PR Lab organizes Davos Tech Dinners to bring together the tech and crypto community within the Davos Conference Week.
Getting Ready for Davos
Before deciding to come to Davos, you should pick the list of events to attend, as there are at least 50 events taking place simultaneously. You should pack winter clothes, suits, gala dresses, and winter boots, and be ready to dance till 6 am. The hardest part is finding a place to stay.
To get affordable accommodation is always a pain in Davos. The Aspen style small Swiss town of only 11,000 inhabitants turns into a 30,000 people festival location. Thus, hosting all the guests in Davos and around it is challenging. The good news is that there is an amazing “UnDavos” Tech Community House where tech entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, live together. UnDavos House idea came to life thanks to Mark Turrell's initiative to bring awesome people in Davos.
Women at the Davos Conference Week
Let us now discuss the place of Women in tech at the Davos Conference Week. I interviewed a few Davos female attendees who shared with me their experiences, which were sometimes filled with controversy.
Amidst all the talk about world economies, Women Empowerment and Gender Equality are recurrent during Davos meetings. At the Davos Conference Week, women’s voices are heard.
As part of side events at Davos 2018, there was an entire space on Promenade dedicated for women called “Girls Lounge.” Samantha Zirkin, founder of Point 93, commented that “they had some exceptional speakers and provided an inclusive, non-judgemental space.”
Numerous events in Davos 2018 are focused solely on women. For example:
- Forbes and Ernst & Young organized a Nightcap on “Most powerful women reception.”
- Female executives from Salesforce and Unilever gave their perspective on how to create a future-focused agenda for women during the breakfast discussion “When Women Thrive: World Economic Forum Private Briefing.”
Liza Lichtinger, founder of MindfulExistenC, found The Ukraine House's panels rather interesting. One of them discussed Christine Batruch's narrative: “It is difficult to comprehend the capacity of human beings to harm and abuse their fellow men and women. Independent thought and individual integrity are the characteristics to be treasured.” On a side note, Christine is the daughter of Bohdan Hawrylyshyn.
For Alanna Gombert, the most empowering women’s event at Davos was Seneca Women, run by Ambassador Melanne Verveer and Kim Azzarelli. “Their mantra is that there is ALWAYS a woman to take that top job. The excuse of ‘we can’t find them’ or ‘women leave the workforce too early’ is a myth. We are here, and we are ready,” she said.
Another Davos Conference Week attendee, Jemma Green, founder of Power Ledger, mentioned that her tech team is entirely male.
“I’ve been trying to hire a woman for the tech side, and I can’t find one. I can’t even find a female applicant, let alone find a hire. Why is this? I think there is a culture of men as tech geeks, probably exacerbated by Steve Jobs, and actually, I’d like to reappropriate geekdom for women. Actually, blockchain offers a world of opportunity especially for women because it is all about a relational database. Men tend to be more linear whereas women tend to be more system thinkers. Not always but frequently.”
Critics of the WEF
Some people express mixed feelings about the WEF. Paula Schwarz, founder of the World Datanomic Forum, believes that the WEF is not qualified to determine who is a leader and who is not. To be part of the WEF does not necessarily mean that you made it to the top – it only suggests that you are part of a community which calls itself “global leaders.” I saw how much money people are willing to pay to belong to the ‘chosen few’.”
Paula Schwarz noted: “I am not convinced of the ways in which the WEF is pushing for gender equality or female empowerment because, in Davos or at other sessions of the WEF in Greece and in Germany, I strongly felt that the gay community, people with an untraditional style in sexual orientation or a different/new way of defining their gender, have not yet found their place. I saw that people who are ‘different’ still hide their true character and identity in order to comply with the cultural codex that is held so sacred by the organizers of the WEF.
“After having attended Davos twice, I understood that there is a type of leadership outside of Davos and the World Economic Forum that is based on respect, synergies and honesty. I learned that the true leaders of our societies don't wear fancy clothes and that, even though nobody invites them to a party, they fight for others and for a better tomorrow on every single day. You don't have to be in Davos to be a leader. Being a leader is internationally possible: we can all be leaders — every day and everywhere. The WEF does not hold the global right to dictate who is a leader and who isn't. This is a lie,” Schwarz added.
The future of women in tech and how can we encourage them to become tech leaders
We often hear complains that there are not enough women in tech, such as:
- There are not enough women to follow on Twitter;
- There are not enough female speakers at the conferences;
- Why are 95% of the most influential people in crypto male?
However, if you take your time to look closer, you will find an abundance of talented females in tech. These women are not hiding under the table, but are openly and visibly developing their companies and demonstrating their awesomeness.
There is also a myth that says the tech industry has no place for women who don’t have a background in coding or engineering. It is true that technology firms need more women in those roles, but women are also needed for other functions as well, including marketing or legal positions.
So what are the obstacles to getting more women involved in the tech space? It may be the lack of visible role models. Therefore, each female tech leader should share her story to encourage and motivate the others.
Let’s recognize, applaud, and reward the women’s achievements in technology. Women in tech become a source of inspiration for future generations of girls looking to embrace the opportunities the world of technology can offer.