Davos 2011: Miami Herald aside, Michelle Bachelet’s feminist message unreported in print media Print E-mail


 Florida ~ Saturday January 29 2011

At Davos, men outnumber women by over 5 to 1

By Edith M. Lederer / Associated Press

Undersecretary General, UN Women, New York, Michelle Bachelet speaks during a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. (Michel Euler / Associated Press)

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Research shows that investing in women is good business and some companies have taken significant steps to increase their female staff, especially at the top - but at the world's premier economic gathering, men still outnumber women by a ratio of more than five to one.

Still, the World Economic Forum is making progress - not only in tackling the gap between men and women appearing on several panels but in producing an index ranking 134 countries on their success in eliminating inequality and establishing a group of 50 influential men and women to focus on ways for women to crack the glass ceiling, especially in business.

Responding to a suggestion from this Global Gender Parity Group, the forum in April 2010 asked its 100 major business members to include at least one woman in its delegation to Davos. The forum's founder Klaus Schwab said the response was full agreement, which has more than doubled the number of women from those companies.

This has also helped to increase the overall percentage of women at the annual meeting of more than 2,500 leaders from business, government and the media from 9 percent in 2001 to more than 16 percent this year.

But, says former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, who now heads UN Women - the new agency promoting the advancement of women in all areas including the private sector - there's still a long way to go to get out the message to companies that diversity will improve their understanding, their strategic thinking and their productivity.

After a meeting Friday of the Global Gender Parity Group, Laura Tyson, a business professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said that over the past five years she has seen a growing body of well-researched evidence that there are "strong biases that prevent the effective utilization of female talent."

"So we have to understand those biases and arrange frameworks to get around them" including setting specific targets and measuring progress on a regular basis, she said.

J. Frank Brown, dean of INSEAD, one of the world's largest graduate schools of business with campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi who chaired the meeting, said since the group was established three years ago he has seen "tremendous progress" including a major commitment by the forum and businesses "being much more open and sharing and collaborating" on what is working to promote women and what isn't.

Sharon Allen, chairman of Deloitte United States, wrote in a new report by the company entitled "The Gender Dividend: Making the business case for investing in women" that in the U.S., women's purchasing power is in excess of $5 trillion and they represent nearly half of all shareholders.

"It would seem to make sense, therefore, that businesses would invest in developing women as workers, executives, and leaders," she said. "But impressive results and sound logic have yet to fully take hold in many parts of the world, including the United States. The advancement of women pales in proportion to their numbers."

Allen said culture and custom are cited as reasons, but she stressed that when businesses and organizations have invested in women "the results have been both profound and dramatic."

The report cites research from the United States and Britain showing that when companies increase the number of women in senior management and on their boards, their economic performance improves significantly - by millions of dollars.

Brown said when he arrived at INSEAD five years ago it had 20 percent women and today it has 34 percent women.

"Once we hit 30 percent, the evaluation of the program went through the roof," he said.

The Gender Equality Project, a Swiss foundation working in partnership with the forum, announced the launch Friday of a new method to measure gender equality in the workplace.

"The project's goal is to provide multinational companies with the first standardized tool that can be universally applied across industries and regions for closing the corporate gender gap," said Nicole Schwab, the project's co-founder.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said the United States rates countries on religious freedom, on combatting sex trafficking, and she intends to introduce legislation calling for a report "on the efforts of our own country and other countries in their efforts to move toward gender parity."

But Livia Jaroka, the only Roma member of the European Parliament, said 90 percent of Roma women don't work and before worrying about closing the gender gap and ensuring the work-life balance, the forum and the international community should focus on "how to get work and make your family able to survive without hunger."
 Florida ~ Wednesday, January 26 2011

Former president back in spotlight in UN role

Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director speaks to reporters marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women at United Nations Headquarters in this Nov. 23, 2010 (file photo)

By ANITA SNOW / Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS -- Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is counting on the lavish dinners, cocktail parties and meetings of world leaders and wealthy executives as she travels to Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday to raise funds for the new United Nations agency promoting gender equality.

The World Economic Forum will be an international coming-out party for Bachelet, and the kick start of her campaign to raise $500 million over two years for UN Women, created by the General Assembly last year when it pulled together four existing U.N. bodies dealing with women's advancement under a single umbrella.

The swirl of social events also will give Bachelet the chance to prod some of the world's power brokers to give money and include more women in their ranks, and do more to ensure that 51 percent of the world's population gets equal treatment.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tapped Bachelet for the job last fall and his selection of the popular Latin American was greeted with widespread approval among the world body's 192 member states.

"It's a huge responsibility," Bachelet told The Associated Press on Tuesday, a day after welcoming the organization's new executive board and presenting her 100-day report. "The creation of UN Women has created really high expectations among member states and women in general."

Much remains to be done, including selection of a senior management team, but the basic $51 million operating budget is in place, along with a rough organizational structure.

The agency's initial focus is to promote the leadership of women in political and economic decision-making, an end to violence against women, a broader role for women in peacekeeping efforts, and the inclusion of gender equality in government planning at all levels.

"I've just been working, working, working," since moving to New York four months ago, Bachelet said, relaxing briefly between meetings at U.N. headquarters. "I go into the office early and I return home late at night."

Bachelet said she's seen little of New York since assuming the new job in September. Her life has recently has mostly involved intense meetings with staff, other U.N. officials, and ambassadors, and the daily walk between U.N. headquarters and her new Manhattan apartment.

After three days in Davos, she's headed to an African Union summit in Ethiopia, then on to Congo and Egypt.

"This is a whole new experience for me, to be part of the international system," said Bachelet, who was elected the first woman president of her South American country in March 2006 and served four years. A moderate socialist, she campaigned to maintain free-market policies while increasing social benefits to the poor.

"When you come here as a president, you just go and speak to the General Assembly," she said of the annual gathering of world leaders each fall. "But now, I have to learn all the rules and procedures, the details of contracts. There are lots of meetings."

"My life here has been interesting, but I miss my family and my people back home," said the 58-year-old separated mother of a son and two daughters, and grandmother of two boys. "They'll come to visit but not to live," she sighed. "Their lives are back in Chile."

Ranked by Time Magazine in 2008 as one of the world's 100 most influential people, Bachelet is down to earth and gracious, answering reporters' questions - both in English and Spanish - long after a news conference about UN Women's first few months has ended.

Standing about 5 feet (1.52 meters) tall in black slacks tucked into faux fur-trimmed snow boots, her round, bespectacled face framed with short, feathery blond hair, Bachelet looks more like the mild-mannered pediatrician she initially trained to be rather than the powerful world leader she later became.

The roots of the agency she now heads stretch back to 1995 in Beijing, where 189 nations adopted a platform to achieve equality for women. They called on countries to close the gender gap in 12 critical areas including health, education, employment, political participation and human rights.

Officially entitled "United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women," UN Women will work on policy issues, provide assistance to U.N. member states, and promote and monitor the U.N. system's actions to promote the advancement of women.

Operations at headquarters in New York will be funded by the U.N.'s regular budget, which all U.N. members contribute to. Field programs and operations will be paid for through voluntary contributions.

The combined budget of the four bodies being merged is about $220 million annually, but Bachelet is working to raise that to $500 million with the help of economically powerful donors. She hopes to double that to $1 billion within several years.

"The United States is deeply committed to ensuring this organization's success," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said at Monday's board meeting, adding that she was "delighted" Bachelet was chosen to head UN Women.

"With her deep knowledge, her commitment to improving the lives of women and children, and her demonstrated ability to build consensus, she is the ideal person," Rice said.