Women delegates put masters of the universe on notice
The masters of the universe were put on notice yesterday when IMF chief executive Christine Lagarde urged Davos delegates to embrace “inclusive growth”.
In a humorous nod to ECB president Mario Draghi, who had just departed the podium, Ms Lagarde said that closing the gender gap in business brought “huge upside risks”.
She spoke from experience, she said, after a rise through the worlds of law, politics and finance.
“I grew up in a boys’ world where you have to elbow your way in,” she said. “When you come in with that sentiment of being a minority, for a long time you are much more attentive to minorities.”
EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, a fellow panellist, said the debate over her draft gender quota directive had already had a positive effect in Europe.
The proposal stipulates that equally qualified women are to be appointed over men until they occupy 40 per cent of the seats on the non-executive boards of Europe’s roughly 5,000 publicly traded companies.
Though the proposal is still awaiting approval, she said the number of women appointments to European company boards had seen a 3 per cent rise in 2012 after years stuck around the 0.5 per cent mark.
That shift, she said, endorsed her memorable line that she disliked quotas but liked their effect.
“We are an ageing continent without enough new talent growing,” she said.
“Some 65 per cent of graduates are female but, at a certain point after training them, we leave them in the corner.”
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, urged frank dialogue in companies about gender differences lurking behind the gender-determined stereotypes that hold women back.
Company policies intended to prevent discrimination – such as not asking employees about family plans – actually cemented the gender gap, she said.
“The main difference between men and women in the workplace is that success and likeability are rated positively for men and negatively for women,” she said. “Research shows [that] as a women becomes more successful, she is less liked both by women and men.
“We need to talk about this at company level . . . [so] the next time there is a performance review, they might say ‘she’s not well-liked’ but they have appreciation for why that is happening.”
Ms Lagarde said it was up to women in powerful positions to drive the debate on gender stereotypes that influence gender discrimination. She said: “We have to dare the difference and speak about it.”