What Davos Is Like For A Female CEO: 'People Assume You're Someone's Wife'

23/01/2015 14:44 | Updated 20 May 2015

As the world's top business executives, board members and CEOs meet at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week, one question continues to come up. Where are all the women?

The Davos World Economic Forum 2015

Only 17 increase from 2014. These include Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing for Facebook, Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and Marissa Mayer (below), CEO of Yahoo. But with over 2,381 men compared to 491 women reported to be attending, the numbers are far from balanced. At Davos, women are in the minority.

Barri Rafferty, the CEO of Ketchum North America, went to Davos in 2012 and 2014. From a knowledge sharing perspective, it's an event not to be missed, but Rafferty knew she'd be one of the few women at the conference.

"There is no other place where you can go and get that much global business information," Rafferty said in an interview with Fortune. "You come back with a lot of diverse thinking."

Yet Rafferty felt she stood out.

"In the evening events in particular, a lot of men take their wives. When you are in [those] social settings, often people assume that you are someone's wife," she explained.

"But as a woman in business at my level, you are used to not being in the majority so you really have to go into it with the kind of attitude that you are going to be there out drinking with the guys and enjoy the whole thing."

The Davos World Economic Forum 2015

In an effort to address this issue, members of the WEF have implemented an incentive scheme - if one of the four tickets allocated to each company goes to a woman, they are awarded a fifth ticket. So, does the problem lie in the businesses themselves?

"To me, it is a macroeconomic business challenge to get women into the top positions at the top corporations that go to meetings like the World Economic Fortum," Rafferty added.

"It is hard to blame the forum, but the event has become a bit of barometer of how women are doing in top roles in corporations, politics and NGOs. It is a moment in time when we can count the number of women and see how we are doing."

Clearly, the 491 women there are excelling in their careers. But if this number is to grow, surely the sad assumption that a female CEO "must be someone's wife" needs to be eradicated first.


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