Over my last several visits to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, there’s one topic people tend to ask me about most – and that’s women. As someone who has spoken out about women’s equity, and as one of the small percent of females at this gathering of global leaders, I’m often asked for my opinion on the progress WEF is making in gender diversity and how to be more inclusive of women.
Over time, the streets of Davos have become far more welcoming to women, with multiple events each day dedicated to discussions of pay equity, feminism and gender norms. The FQ Lounge, hosted by The Female Quotient, was bigger than ever this year, and featured three days full of engaging conversation about the important role of women in business and society. And yet, we still have a very long way to go – this year has the highest-ever percentage of female delegates at 22 percent, and pay equity is still 108 years away. So in short, the answer is – yes, WEF cares about gender equality; yes, progress is being made; but no, we have not solved this challenge – not even close to it.
But what I’ve really noticed this year is that the focus on diversity and inclusion has broadened well beyond the very obvious gender disparity to a discussion of inclusivity for all.
I was proud to represent Ketchum and our parent company Omnicom Group on a panel announcing the creation of a new WEF Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, of which Omnicom is a founding member. The partnership aims to secure cooperation from corporations around the world to commit to the U.N. LGBTI Standards of Conduct, and operationalize those standards within their organizations and beyond. It is an ambitious partnership and one that is crucial to ensuring safe, inclusive workplaces for the LGBTI community around the world. We also attended an event hosted by GLAAD and the Ariadne Getty Foundation that previewed findings from a new report on LGBTI acceptance. Several organizations have been bringing LGBTI discussions to Davos for a few years now, but the sheer number of events – and the incredibly passionate people supporting the efforts, is truly noteworthy.
This year for the first time, WEF announced a commitment to emphasize disability inclusion as a key component of its programming. The Congress Center hosted the ACCESS+ABILITY exhibit featuring product designs that consider the unique needs of people with disabilities, such as adaptive clothing, eye-tracking devices and a Braille smartwatch. In a new initiative, Omnicom Group (led by my good friend Janet Riccio) also partnered with the #valuable campaign to remind organizations that a diversity program without a focus on disability is incomplete (check out the amazing campaign film, Diversish, created by AMV BBDO, here). A number of disability advocates are in Davos this week, including activist and entrepreneur Caroline Casey, Paralympian Susannah Rodgers, and social entrepreneur Gina Badenoch, who is partnering with WEF on a Sensory Dinner in the Dark event to demonstrate the challenges of visual impairment.
Far more activities this year focused on topics like aging and mental health, with the goal of destigmatizing the topics so that entire segments of society are not overlooked. Perhaps the most compelling plea I heard was from one of the Annual Meeting’s co-chairs, Mohammed Hassan Mohamud. A Sudanese refugee, Mohamud is one of 185,000 displaced people living in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and he has lived there for more than 20 years. He has no passport, no official birth date, and needs to apply for a conditional visa even to visit any nearby communities. Mohamud said, “We shouldn’t think of refugees as a burden. We are able people who want to do good things for ourselves, but we also want to contribute to society. We just want to feel wanted, to be included.” For people like Mohamud, this is not a temporary discomfort. Many in his community may spend their entire lives in displacement, so what can we do to make sure their lives are not lived in vain, but are spent making meaningful contributions to the world?
This week in Davos has made me really stop and think about what it would be like to live in another person’s shoes. What more can we be doing to ensure we are being inclusive to all – in our workplaces and in our communities? How can we each do things in our communities, companies and local government to be more inclusive in the broadest definition?