On the Hot Seat:

Women’s growing role at Davos

Jennifer S. Altman for The Boston Globe

Liz Claman made the leap to financial news after leaving Boston’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7) to join CNBC in 1998. She is now an anchor at Fox Business Network. She recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — where, in the past, she has found herself the only woman in the room. In 2012, for the second year in a row, the forum set a quota to ensure women were represented. Claman spoke with Globe correspondent Kara Miller about women’s progress in the business world.

In Davos last year, all the corporate partners had to make sure at least one of their five representatives was a woman. How do you feel about this? They just weren’t getting a lot of female participants, which is odd because women have gotten bigger and bigger in business and in world leadership. So, they thought maybe they’d give a nudge to some of the corporate partners. What they had back in 2002 was 9 percent female participation, and that’s pretty skimpy. So by last year, in part because of the quota, they got up to about 16 percent, and this year they’ll be up to about 17 percent. So, incrementally, they’re moving along and they’re improving.

Does a quota diminish the women who come to Davos, making them token females?

That’s always an issue with any woman, and that’s why I say: Nobody should be there if they don’t deserve to be there, if they don’t have the good ideas. They have to have the chops to be up against more than 40 world leaders, and thousands of CEOs of the world’s most important companies: Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Google, Nissan Renault. You’re going to sit there and have a conversation with Carlos Ghosn of Nissan, and not deserve to be there?

Are you concerned that part of the problem is a kind of old boys network?


That maybe used to be the issue. But they’re trying really hard to crack it open. The keynote speaker this year [was] Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. That sends an excellent message. But she wouldn’t be there if she weren’t one of the most important newsmakers of the year. I think it’s a work in progress. A lot of corporate CEOs I spoke to last year said, “You know, we just weren’t thinking about bringing a woman.’’ But when they were encouraged to look for women, they did find people who deserved to sit at the table. And last I checked, women have just as good ideas as men.

You’ve been to Davos conferences during troubled economic times. Do you have a feeling that the mood is more upbeat this year?

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It would be if it were US-centric, because things here are incrementally better moment by moment. Any businessperson will tell you that - the psychology is improving. But because this is global, the focus is very much on solving the European debt crisis. This is a massive issue. I’m not very interested at the moment in how much cash is on the balance sheet of Muhtar Kent’s company - CEO of Coca-Cola. I want to know what a smart businessman like Kent thinks we’ve missed in working to solve Europe.

After Davos, you’ll be going to the MIT’s Sloan Women in Management Conference [on Friday]. What do you think women should know about what it takes to succeed in serious management roles? One of the gutsiest, smartest people I’ve met is Carol Bartz, who just got pushed out of Yahoo but for many years ran Autodesk. I am so impressed with her and the way she stood up for herself. She is so, so focused - constantly trying to educate herself. Almost like a female Jack Welch. And that’s what you have to do. You have to stop being how you think women should be and just do what any businessperson would need to do to succeed.