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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 03:03 GMT
Women demand greater say
Panel of women's leaders
Women are under-represented at the WEF
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David Schepp
BBC News Online's North America Business Reporter

Over the course of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) 30-year history, women have been noticeably absent within the organisation's structure.

Hoping to foster women's participation, 200 women from around the globe met on Sunday during the WEF's annual meeting, currently under way in New York, to increase women's participation in the forum.

Women's participation in economies, whether it be our own or in other parts of the world is essential

Madeleine Albright
"In these fragile times, it is essential that the world embrace the talents of both women and men," said Donna Redel, managing director of the WEF.

"We cannot afford to exclude in any way from government, business and society those equally entitled to full participation."

Ms Redel was joined by US Labour Secretary Elaine Chao and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, and others in announcing the launch of an initiative to promote female leadership within the WEF.

Long time coming

Just 10% of the delegates at this year's 'Davos' meeting are women, a point not lost on reporters covering the event or demonstrators outside the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, protesting the event.

Elaine Chao, secretary of the US Department of Labour
Chao's government department has a majority of female policy makers

Asked why it has taken women so long to launch such an initiative, Ms Liswood said: "We're starting to get a critical mass of women who are really able to be in these kinds of positions of power, who've been able to demonstrate what it's like to be in these positions".

Ms Liswood also said the challenges facing the world are enormous and require the talents of all people - including women.

It was a point echoed by several members of the panel who addressed the press following the launch of the women leaders' initiative.

Women leading

The future success of the World Economic Forum hinges on increased participation of women, Madeleine Albright said, adding the talents exhibited at the forum are the same types of leadership qualities necessary to promote economic growth and political stability throughout the world.

"Women's participation in economies, whether it be our own or in other parts of the world is essential," she said.

In the developing word, women contribute in large portions to the gross national product (GNP) and women's participation within government "changes the dimension of the country - in terms of its stability, which is certainly what we all care about now," Ms Albright said.

In addition, issues such as education and health care take greater precedence when women are in leadership roles within government and business. "There are [fewer] sexually transmitted diseases [and] there's not trafficking of women," Ms Albright said.

Promoting women

Secretary Chao used the occasion to announce that her agency now "has the highest number of women in top-policy jobs in all of federal government."

She said it was the first time that any cabinet department has had 50% of its top-policy makers as women.

Madeleine Albright
Albright: Women must help one another

In other places in business and politics, however, women are often not represented in numbers that relate to their population as a whole.

Within the Fortune 500, for example, women comprise just 12.4% of the board of directors and 12.5% of corporate officer posts.

Pushing the 'glass ceiling'

Globally, there is an absence of women at the top, too.

The panel noted several reasons why women fail to achieve leadership roles in the same numbers as men, including stereotypes and preconceptions about women's abilities, lack of career planning on the part of women and counterproductive behaviour on the part of male co-workers.

"People often say there is a glass ceiling," said Ms Liswood. "My reflection on that is it's just a thick layer of men."

But there was also acknowledgement that women must also help themselves.

"It essential for women to help each other," Ms Albright said.

"When those of us that have managed to get to the top, we have to make sure to help other women along the way - not push the ladder away from the building when we've gotten up."

See also:

03 Feb 02 | Business
Global economy 'recovering'
03 Feb 02 | Business
Eyewitness: Protest on Fifth Avenue
01 Feb 02 | Business
WEF: New York's big deal
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