Gender roles have changed, no doubt about it. Here in Davos female participants include Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Fabiola Gianotti, the Director-General of CERN. But too many women around the world still face barriers to reaching their potential, and the gender gap at work won’t close for 170 years. How can we break stereotypes and boost progress?

Cultural revolution

Fighting gender inequality comes down to the need for a cultural shift. We have all grown up in our cultures, and Cynthia Castro, Vice-President of RBA, says this means we all carry an ingrained unconscious gender bias.

Gender stereotypes are holding women back, and giving women a voice is one solution to this, she says - until you have women sitting around a table and making decisions nothing will change.

Oscar winning documentary maker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy adds that gender bias is everywhere, and that each of us needs to change.

“I refuse to answer the question of what it feels like to be a female filmmaker,” she says. “I am a filmmaker. What is a female filmmaker?”

Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, Vice-President of Panama, agrees on the importance of a cultural shift in changing attitudes towards women and breaking down stereotypes, but she notes that this is not the only area needing change. Things must be done on several fronts.

The need for quotas

Women are under-represented in the global workforce, she says, and especially within executive positions. Organisations and governments put in place quotas in an attempt to stop discrimination and reach a gender balance. Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado says that she never thought she would say it, but she believes quotas are an important tool in breaking the glass ceiling.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF agrees, but emphasizes the difficulties quotas raise;

“It’s not always an easy task. Sometimes you have to compromise and find ways to respond to the needs of those who were excluded but without creating new exclusions.”


The fight for gender equality isn’t reserved solely for women. In fact, “if the males are not in the conversation, we’ve missed it,” Robert Moritz says.

This belief is seen in the United Nations Women’s ‘He for She’ programme - although Cynthia Castro notes that it needs to be ‘He for All’ due to the negative effects of gender stereotypes on men.

The responsibility of leaders

Change is often sparked through disruptive leadership. Robert Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC, says that unless leaders visibly and proactively do the disrupting, the same things continue to happen.

As a leader, Christine Lagarde notes the importance of disrupting the norm - for example when a female board member takes the floor, she says many male members would physically withdraw. But when you’re the leader you must be the one to ensure others change their behaviour.