Bono's Newfound Discovery of Gender Equality Reveals a Much Bigger Problem at Davos

AP

It's been a great week for white, male celebrities discovering discrimination. Following Sam Smith's proclamation this week that he'll "shine some sort of light" on racism, none other than Bono tweeted Thursday in vague support of gender equality. 

Bono's message is particularly ironic, however, given he sent it while attending the World Economic Forum's annual Davos conference — an event of which only 18% of attendees are female, according to Women in the World.

The leaders invited to Davos — which has been called the "pre-eminent gathering for business leaders, politicians and academics" by the Telegraph — have historically failed to represent those they're supposedly leading. Women composed only 9% of the conference's attendees in 2000, according to Women in the World, and despite doubling that number 16 years later, the conference still has a long way to go until they reach gender parity.

Even when granted admission, female attendees have faced sexism at the conference. Perhaps most notoriously, Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum North America, a public relations firm, told Fortune in January 2015 that she was repeatedly mistaken for an attendee's wife. This treatment, she said, as well as the conference's overall gender disparity, has become "a bit of barometer of how women are doing in top roles in corporations, politics and NGOs." 

Statistics show that Davos' attendance indeed reflects a bigger problem. Women in the United States are only 4.6% of CEOs and hold only 19% of board seats at S&P 500 companies, according to the Center for American Progress.

BonoSource: FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images
Bono  FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

But it seems Davos is trying to change. In addition to Bono's (questionable) effort, Emma Watson took the Davos stage on behalf of her role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador last year to announce the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative, which intended to encourage governments, corporations and universities to better address gender equality. HeForShe returned this year and on Friday announced it had convinced top male executives at 10 major companies to "release numbers on how many women are in their workforces, senior leadership, the board and among new hires," according to Business Insider.

Davos organizers themselves have also made efforts to address this inequity. Three of the six co-chairs of this year's forum are women, Women in the World reported, and the conference invited Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg and Justin Trudeau to host a panel about gender parity, Global News reported Friday.

As Gates told Women in the World, "When women are able to fully participate in the workforce, everyone benefits." Perhaps next year, this participation will involve more than celebrity shoutouts and a rate of attendance far closer to parity.