Women at Davos
Katrin Bennhold reports in the NY Times:
Iris Bohnet navigates the narrow carpeted stairs to the wood-paneled hotel lobby balancing a smartphone, two bags and a winter coat the size of a duvet. It’s below freezing here. She’s been up for an hour already, checking emails and sending a quick note to her husband, who is looking after their two boys, but mostly, she admits, blow-drying her hair. This is her first observation of the day: Davos Woman gets less sleep than Davos Man because of her hair.
Ms. Bohnet studies gender inequality. A behavioral economist at the Harvard Kennedy School, she is one of about 600 female participants at this year’s World Economic Forum. There are about 2,400 men — that’s 80 percent of all participants. The gender imbalance here very much reflects the dearth of female leaders in the real world. As one female American executive put it: “Who do they think they are? The Senate?”
I was curious: What is it like to be Davos Woman for a day?
We step into the Davos dawn and start walking down the icy sidewalk. Ms. Bohnet’s first appointment is a breakfast panel on how to increase gender diversity in companies. She recently wrote a book on the subject and will be one of the speakers.
Ms. Bohnet arrived the day before and caught the end of the conference’s annual women’s reception. This is where female newcomers to Davos receive advice from the regulars — a sort of survivors’ guide for the 20 percent. Bring sturdy shoes. Expect long security lines. Don’t be intimidated, but if you are, don’t show it.
Ms. Bohnet knows the drill. This is her fourth year as Davos Woman. She is wearing sturdy shoes and carries her high heels in a spare bag.
There are quite a few men in the line at the Morosani Schweizerhof hotel. “That’s encouraging,” Ms. Bohnet whispers.
Have they all gotten up this early to learn about gender equality? We quickly discover that there is a finance breakfast scheduled for the same time.
Still, of the roughly 200 people who have come for the gender discussion, perhaps a third are men. And half of the speakers are women. This is good, in my thinking.
The first time I came to Davos, in 2002, it was pretty standard to have a panel with four middle-aged men. A “manel,” as women here call it.
The setup for the rare female speaker was often awkward. Microphones that interfered with earrings. Barstool-like chairs that made legs dangle, skirts ride up and high heels fall off.
Over the next hour and a half, it almost seems as if the corporate world could be on the cusp of a gender revolution. Unilever and Mercer are using a gender-neutral assessment test to hire employees. SAP is using a big data tool to evaluate employees and job ads that avoid adjectives like “aggressive” and “competitive” that have been shown to put off women. The number of female managers has risen at all three companies.
This is all in Ms. Bohnet’s book, “What Works,” a blueprint for how to de-bias organizations rather than human beings. We are all biased, she explains. “Even if you have the best intentions, it’s hard to overcome your unconscious biases.”
Her favorite example is about the top orchestras in the United States, which began having auditions behind curtains in the 1970s. At the time only 5 percent of their musicians were women. Orchestra directors were confident that they did not need the curtain and that they had been choosing candidates purely on sound.
But with the curtain, the proportion of female musicians in American orchestras started to rise. It’s nearly 40 percent today. . .
Later in the article (but do read the whole thing):
McKinsey has done extensive research to prove that gender diversity is good for business. It recently piloted an algorithm built to recruit employees without bias. The formula picked more women.
“Wow,” Ms. Bohnet says. “After a morning like this, you really think something is happening.”