January 28th, 2011
12:06 AM GMT
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(CNN) – Watching CNN’s fantastic Davos coverage both on television and online, I can’t help but notice we’re always talking to men.  Turns out, there’s good reason for it.

According to World Economic Forum executives, women have never made up more than 17% of total attendees.  The WEF has introduced a quota for female executives from major sponsors at this year’s summit.  One in five delegates sent by strategic partners must be female.

I’ve never met a quota that didn’t have a long trail of strong opinion floating behind it, and this one is no exception.

As one of my Twitter followers asked:  “Why does gender still count in 2011? Why don’t we talk about how qualified a person is for the job of CEO?”

And from a Facebook friend:  “Gender is not an issue any more. Anyone can do anything with tenacity.”  Well, not-so-much in Davos, I’m afraid, where men and women alike need a tenacious $70,000  just to have a ticket through the front door!

But I get the point.

People hate quotas. They are suspicious. They suggest we are not equal and can’t exercise free will.  They suggest there are evil forces at work, even though we can’t quite see them through the pretty Davos snow, falling on ski slopes.

CEO (and yes, female) Cynthia Good of The Little Pink Book, an online resource for working women, says the Davos quota flap is a symptom of something very real and pressing in the business world.  She comes packing with statistics that are truly shocking:  Women hold less than 3% of Fortune 500 CEO jobs, 15.7 % of corporate board seats, up just 1% in five years.

This is despite recent data such as the McKinsey survey that finds promoting women is good for business. Companies with more women in key executive roles were found to deliver a 34% higher return to shareholders.

But wait a minute—QUOTAS?  At Davos?   “More effort must be made to ensure diversity,” says Good, “And you have to start somewhere.”

Personally, I favor mentoring, transparency on very real gender disparities in the workplace in terms of pay, and recruitment.  And how about rounding up the best 50 female CEOs out there in the global marketplace, people just like Cynthia Good, who got there with their own tenacity, talent, luck, whatever it was- and hear their ideas?

I’ll bet they’d give those guys at Davos an earful.

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Pete

    Men are overrepresented at the extremes of the "success; distribution, whether CEO or prison inmates. Setting quotas for one end of the distribution is as unfair as setting quotas for the other end. Imagine if someone suggested laws should be changed so that crimes that are more likely to be committed by women get more harshly punished, or that prosecutors should charge and convict as many women as they do men.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:40 am |
  2. Brian Clark

    Gender should never be in question :- Qualification is the marker !!................Eileen Collins is probably the Spae Shuttle's most heroic Commander ever !!...........come on Eileen !!

    January 28, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  3. Ipko

    Why don’t women talk about equality when men face discrimination in child custody, child support, alimony, abortion, domestic violence, parental leave, harassment, criminal and all other laws, disparities in custody, convictions and sentencing, much more government sponsored women’s right organizations and political representation, degrading portrayals in media and education, blocking of information of men’s issues in media, less priority for male health (especially cancer) issues, no discussion on reduced lifespan & more male suicides, “positive” discrimination in favor of women, much higher proportion of female school teachers, different retirement age and pension eligibility in many countries, drafting into army, preference in refugee status in many countries. Mena and women need to wake up.

    January 28, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  4. jason

    Wanted in my kitchen: Women

    January 28, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  5. Susanne

    Quotas are excellent tools for a society that realizes it has institutionalized discrimination against one group. We _know_ men are already getting "quota:ed" because of their sex (yeah, come one, there's enough research on this to wallpaper the planet: having rich parents is one factor that will more easily lead you to power; being male is another) which means that we're missing tons of good people (poor and/or women for instance) that could really make a difference in these companies.
    If men and women are equally good at what they do – then 50% of your best potential CEOs are women; and 50% men. (If you disagree with this statistics, the rest of the argument folds, and we have to argue about only this data point, of course). Let's say we agree on that and press on. At the moment, the group of CEOs at Davos is suboptimal – lots of the best potential CEOs are stuck in junior positions or have quit because there is insufficient child care support, or because of similar factors. This is a problem, and we need to optimize our group of CEOs. Mentoring programs are excellent, but produce very weak results – whereas quotas really work (yeah, we know that too. If you disagree with quotas, you should do so on the basis that they are unfair in the particular instances, which they might be. But check your research: for the community as a whole, they help. Look at the Myrdal-effect on equality in Sweden, for instance.

    January 28, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  6. Tomi

    Once again stupid feminism. CNN is becoming a feminist TV. It makes me stop watching this newtrok.

    January 28, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  7. Pete

    Actually, quotas are excellent tools for institutionalized discrimination against one group. Even if we assume equal ability, both in the average ability and the distribution around this average, which we know is not true, we would also have to ASSUME equal drive or desire (to become CEOs or enter into a life or crime), which is not true either. We should be aiming at equal opportunity, not an even result, whether among CEOs or prison inmates.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  8. Rio de Loca

    As a man living in South Africa, I got six (6) distinctions in Science. I got refused entry in Medicine where preference was given to women with far weaker grades. Need I say more?

    January 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  9. Huw

    Men are equipped to lead and that's why we were given balls. Women are equipped for other areas of life...work it out.
    Having a token woman is one thing allowing them to make important decisions is another.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  10. Rio de Loca

    Suzanne, read Animal Farm by Orwell. The more things change, the more they will remain the same. Rather have each person to their strength.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  11. Andrew

    I wonder if Ms. McEdwards' would support fathers attending the At-Home Dads conference giving mothers an "earful."

    Egalitarianism was a well-intentioned response to chauvinism, but just a flawed, particularly since it requires discrimination to achieve its goal. The "need" for a quota is ample proof that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. Our greatest mistake is refusing to acknowledge the qualities of each gender and celebrate their equal importance.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  12. Ipko

    I keep hearing two things about women – first that they are paid less, and second that there are not enough women at the top. Firstly, if women were really getting paid less than men for the same position, with the same education and for the same hours of work, then are these companies stupid to hire those men? And in these recessionary times? If that is really happening then that "individual" needs to analyze her own shortcomings. Companies are not into charity and it might not be too fair to ask them to cover additional costs like maternity leave costs, extended absence of employee during that time, etc. Again, strict laws on harassment have scared off many employers from hiring women, as it turns into a matter of he said, she said. Again, men are generally much more willing to work extended overtime hours, while many women generally are less flexible with late sitting, thereby sending a message of giving more priority to general “life balance” than their organization. The same reasons are also applicable for the fact that there are more men at top positions. The best people get the job. You seldom see women at the top complaining of non existent discrimination, and men don't have any grudges against them. And if you need a quota, I’m sorry to say that you are not capable enough and need to work on yourself.

    January 29, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  13. John witters

    Eileen you may have a point. Cnn. Seems to have an array of old and new male presenters given opportunities. Where are the young women at CNN? We seem to have glimpses of them and then we do not see them again. Is sexism an issue in broadcasting?

    January 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  14. John witters

    Colleen, I have just watched The Big Questions on itv and I was quite amazed that women earn 17 percent less than men do. I hope davos addressed this issue because I remember Ayesha did a programme for CNN to illustrate this huge discrepancy. Could you show Ayesha's programme again?

    January 30, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  15. Kat

    What drugs are you on? The only people who think gender doesn't matter are men. Every woman who's been trying to get ahead knows that it's impossible to get on as well as men. In meetings men don't listen to women's ideas - I've actually been present at meetings where idea after idea was presented by a woman, but not adopted until a man had restated it IN EXACTLY THE SAME WORDS. Whereupon HE got the credit.

    January 30, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  16. puckles

    Men are pigs. This is fact. This is why women are kept down in every area of life. Even the bible says that a woman is better off if she doesn't get married. God knows what pigs most men are. This is soon to change though.

    February 1, 2011 at 6:39 am |
  17. rh

    Maybe women aren't stupid enough to drop $70,000 for an event.

    I know that men's and women's brains are the same, but the way many men treat women, especially non-American men, is troubling. Men can dress conservatively and are thought to be business-like. Any woman who doesn't show cleavage is automatically a d*ke. The problem is that many expect women to take the burden of family responsibilities, even if it is not child-rearing, it is taking care of parents or other family members.

    February 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  18. Jack

    Gee CNN, do you think it's helping to allow people like Huw, Tomi and Jason to post blatantly prejudiced comments about women here that contain no facts but only bigoted opinion? f they'd posted something similar about a non-white race they'd never have been approved but hey thanks for prolonging the problem.

    February 2, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  19. Wonderer

    Take a look at this discussion and you will notice the tone and prevalent attitude towards women in their comments (Huw, Jason,wtf).

    Rio De Loca, I highly doubt what you said. No offense but I find it extremely difficult to believe your 'story'. If your grades are so great, you would have gotten accepted despite 'their preference' unless you are telling me that they only accepted 'weaker-grades' women.

    February 2, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  20. Wordup

    Davos came off as a sad joke for me while I was there performing. What you see are mainly men (mostly white) all acting important and ignoring the big issues such as equality, human rights issues, spreading the wealth, protecting the planet and creating jobs. It appears more of a self absorbed mens club on how to hoard the wealth, deceive the people and control the planet. But hey, I'm known to wrong at times. Of course their were men of color (India, Asia) but the air was........

    February 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  21. Manuel Vilhena

    Obviously a female CEO can have the same value of a male CEO. Gender should not be an issue.

    February 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  22. Respect

    Oh boy, more rabid feminism. If I wanted to be a real mean person in response to the feminist leaning articles and some of the commenters, I could relate the fact to say when women were not forced down our throat in the corporate world, profits were sky-high. Now, with the "you must have women present anywhere" mantra, profits and the economy are in the toilet.

    I could also say, you will never hear a woman speak up on female discrimination against males in the workplace. They are opportunists, and nothing more.

    I can count 5 people (male programmers who are high-acheivers) who have gotten the snub by female department heads, female department heads mind you, who punished anybody who did not listen to their female dramatics and did not attend weekly "meetings" in which the female department head and her female appointed minions ranted on about non-sensical social items unrelated to the business. I can also tell you that 2 of those male programmers left and ultimately made a pile of money helping businesses who actually cared about making money and hiring good people.

    Ladies, in case you have not been keeping score, there is silent army growing against these misandric articles and misandric corporate practices. Men will find a way to avoid you and do their own thing. Don't call us when the economy falls on it's head because of your blatant hatred. We will be busy going our own way.

    February 3, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  23. Dave

    I notice that some women are commenting on some men’s comments saying that they should not have been published but they don’t have problems with another comment from a woman calling all men pigs, which IMHO was a little harsher than all of those other comments by the men. Again, women don’t seem to want to addresss inequalities that men have to endure in other areas and choose to completely ignore these issues. This is the problem. You have to be consistent in your behavior. You talk about equality in some areas and heavy preferential treatment in almost all other areas. Please stop this hypocrisy. Are you really serious about genuine gender equality?

    February 3, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  24. ginicaus

    Im working on filling that quota :-) , there is definitely room at the top for more women!

    February 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  25. John witters

    Broadcasting BBC has just had egg on it's face. Age of women should be no barrier to getting exposure on tv. So, there is some progress but many female bosses banish their own female staff to lower jobs and lower pay.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
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    February 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
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