I am still recovering from last week’s 29th Annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference (“JPM”). For those of you who did not spend last week at JPM, you can creatively visualize the experience: just imagine being crammed into a 4 square block area of San Francisco with every single person who ever uttered the words “health care” and “money” in the same sentence. In fact, most of the people I know don’t even go to the conference itself, but use the week to meet with a myriad of companies, bankers, institutional investors, VCs, private equity people and related persons who they might not otherwise get to see in person.
In some ways, JPM is like 5 straight days of speed-dating–you meet with new people every half hour or hour for days on end, followed by a myriad of cocktail parties and dinners. Instead of running between tables you dash between hotel lobbies, Starbucks, Rulli and John’s Grill. The only problem with the speed-dating analogy is that while there are legions of gray-suited men, there are hardly any women.
Nearly 9000 people officially register for JPM and probably at least two times that number attend the unofficial events that swirl around it. I was amazed as I moved from event to event how few women there were in attendance. At a private equity firm dinner I attended there were about 100 people of which 4 were women. This was the typical ratio everywhere I went and it was really stunning.
I am quite confident that, despite its being an entirely unscientific survey, the number of women in private equity, venture capital, banking and other related financial fields is declining. One of my female friends and colleagues, a very senior level former CFO and investment banker, said she had seen a recent study from Catalyst that verified this as fact. The one piece of good news in all this is that JPM is the only major event you can go to in San Francisco where there is no line for the ladies’ room.
As I pondered this sad state of affairs, my lifelong pal Lynne sent me the following article from the Guardian UK:
12 January 2011 22.14 GMT
Each year, prime ministers, bankers, business tycoons and other movers and shakers of the global elite gather at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss Alpine town of Davos. And each year, one key thing has been missing: women. Now, in an attempt to improve the traditionally dismal gender balance at this month’s event, which starts a week next Tuesday, the WEF has for the first time imposed a minimum quota of women.
The forum’s “strategic partners” – a group of about 100 companies including Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank – have been told they must bring along at least one woman in every group of five senior executives sent to the high-profile event. Strategic partners account for 500 of the 2,500 participants expected this year at a gathering where David Cameron will rub shoulders with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, historian Niall Ferguson, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, at least one member of the Saudi royal family and countless business supremos and members of the academic elite.
“The World Economic Forum annual meeting engages the highest levels of leadership from a variety of sectors and participation figures are a reflection of the scarcity of women in this external pool,” said Saadia Zahidi, who heads the gender parity programme at the WEF and came up with the quota plan.
The article goes on to say that in prior years women made up only 9-15% of Davos attendees, peaking at 17% in 2009. That they are shooting for 20% is not all that impressive, but I guess it’s better than 17%. Considering that women actually make up about 51% of the population in the U.S., the numbers leave a lot to be desired. Considering that women make up 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs, it’s a great target. About 15% of venture capitalists are women, which is about the same number for senior level people in the securities industry, yet about half of all college students are women. Somewhere between college and the JPM conference, chicks have left the building.
You have to hand it to the folks who put on the Davos World Economic Forum . That is a serious venue with serious clout and influence. I think it’s great that they have made “Closing the Corporate Gender Gap” one of their core meeting topics. Wouldn’t it be great if this were the beginning of a trend? Hey JP Morgan guys, something to think about for your 30th Annual Healthcare meeting, perhaps?
Mary Schmidt says
Indeed. When I attend a “tech” or investor event – all of us women can typically fit into the room with no waiting. Of course, we have to start somewhere, but will quotas do any actual good? Or do we run the risk of being seen as “special” as in “not quite good enough, but…” All the old arguments and prejudices re affirmative action come to mind.
(I’ll know we’re really making progress when they give Barbie flat feet – and stop giving her glasses when they want to show she’s “smart” as they did with the tech geek Barbie.)