Davos showed it's time to put women first

Nobel Peace winner Malala Yousafzai addresses a session at the Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos
Roseann Kelly

AS I read the reports on Davos, I was delighted to see that women's role in both society and the workplace was again one of the key themes, while for the first time in the 48 years of the World Economic Forum, the seven co-chairs from a cross-section of businesses, politics, academia and civil society, were women.

It was clear from the many different speakers that the focus has moved on from the importance of gender equality to achieving gender equality.

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai spoke about the importance of education for girls, and how we need to focus on educating boys about girls, stating: “The education of young men on the subject of women's rights is a crucial step to ending gender inequality. When we talk about feminism and women's rights, we're actually addressing men.”

She added: “Men have a big role to play. We have to teach young boys how to be men. In order to be a man, you have to recognise that all women and all those around you have equal rights and that you are part of this movement for equality.”

This is a powerful message. Gender inequality was further recognised through a new Oxfam report, launched during the annual meeting. Some 82 per cent of the world's wealth generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent of the global population.

That inequality, says Oxfam's Winnie Byanyima, hits women harder than men. Across the world, women consistently earn less than men and are usually in the lowest paid and least secure forms of work. By comparison, nine out of 10 billionaires are men.

In his address at Davos, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said:” It's time to put women first”.

He was impassioned and clear when he added: "I'm talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women. Not because it's the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it's the smart thing to do."

He told company leaders to review leave policies, review benefits, promote women to senior positions, consider quotas and to be transparent on their numbers - to get the best from women in the workforce.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma also shared that he is trying to support women in his organisation and stressed that women must have a meaningful place in the workplace. He said: "If you want your company to be successful and to operate with wisdom and care, then women are the best.” Indeed 37 per cent of senior management in Alibaba are women.

So last week, against this backdrop, it was reassuring to see that three out of four of our new permeant secretaries are female. Last year saw the first two female high court Judges, three out of five party leaders are women and we have a female Secretary of State.

These are all steps in the right direction. But they need to become normal and not something that is noted or pointed out. Only then will we have true equality.

:: Roseann Kelly (roseann@ is chief executive of Women in Business, the largest and fastest growing business network for female entrepreneurs and senior women in management in Northern Ireland. Follow the organisation on Facebook at or on Twitter @wibni.

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