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Davos founder accused of sexism — WSJ

The forum’s staff told the Wall Street Journal that Klaus Schwab’s management had sexually harassed and discriminated against women and black people for years

The leadership of the World Economic Forum (WEF), including founder Klaus Schwab, have turned a blind eye to discrimination against women and black people as well as sexual harassment in the organization, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing over 80 current and former employees and other sources familiar with the situation.

The accusations contrast with the recommendations of the WEF, which has been vocally calling for the advancement of gender parity, which according to its analysts, is projected to add trillions to global economies and significantly boost the economic output of some nations.

The forum, colloquially known as Davos, was established by Schwab back in 1971 and is run as a nonprofit foundation. The forum’s annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland is the world’s biggest annual business and economics event; it commonly attracts dozens of high-ranking world leaders and CEOs, with more than 50 heads of state attending in 2024.

Last month, Schwab announced plans to step back from his position after more than 50 years at the helm of the annual gathering. The 86-year-old founder outlined his intention to transition to a non-executive-chairman role before the next forum in 2025.

Under Schwab’s oversight of the forum, “an atmosphere hostile to women and black people” in the workplace was “allowed to fester,” the media outlet said, quoting internal complaints, email exchanges and interviews with staff members and people aware of the practices.

At least six female employees were reportedly sacked or saw their career paths negatively affected after getting pregnant or returning from maternity leave, while another half dozen were allegedly sexually harassed by senior managers, some of whom still remain at the organization. Two women told the outlet that they were sexually harassed years ago by VIP guests at forum gatherings.

Forum managers used the N-word around black employees, according to internal complaints obtained by the journal. Black people had been reportedly passed over for promotions or “left out of Davos.”

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Schwab had reportedly attempted to introduce an age limit for staff members, people familiar with the issue said, adding that the former executive “singled out a group of employees over 50 years old and instructed his human resources chief to get rid of them all.”

Three female staff members, who used to work closely with Schwab, said that he made suggestive comments to them that made them uncomfortable over the course of several decades. Several other co-workers confirmed the allegations.

Forum spokesman Yann Zopf told the WSJ that Schwab had never been “engaged in the vulgar behaviors” the media described, calling the allegations “vague and false” and adding that no “sexual advances” toward employees had been made.

The WEF also rejected allegations about an age limit, saying that the organization behind the annual event has “zero tolerance for harassment or discrimination and has responded appropriately to any complaints received.”

The spokesman stressed that many of the accusations, including those alleging discrimination against pregnant women, involved former employees who had been dismissed for performance reasons or as part of restructuring. He added that the management had received three reports alleging racial discrimination over the past four years, and that all of them have been thoroughly investigated and appropriate steps were taken to tackle the issue.

June 30, 2024 at 07:56PM

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