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What will be the theme at the Davos summit in January of 2011?

CHRISTIAN HARTMANN

Attendees of next week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, will have to pack something other than grey suits and black tie this year. They'll have to bring some women.

Organizers of the high-profile event announced this week that the meeting's "strategic partners " - global sponsors that include Google Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bombardier Inc. - have to send at least one woman in every group of five senior executives.

"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 the WEF's Saadia Zahidi, who initiated the quota program.

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According to the organization's statistics, women constituted only 9 to 15 per cent of attendees of the event between 2001 and 2005. In 2010, the number had risen to only 17 per cent. The five-day gathering usually draws about 2,500 attendees.

"I think it's a great idea," said Don Tapscott, a professor with University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, who has attended the international gathering for 15 years. "The WEF is, over the last few years, on a major program to be more inclusive, to open up, to be more diverse and to engage the world."

Mr. Tapscott said the numbers from the WEF paint a somewhat harsher picture of the gender breakdown than is actually the case. Attendees can bring their spouses, he noted, and many women attend the sessions, even if not in an official capacity.

"They are wives," he said. "But all the women are all tremendously interesting and capable and vocal in their own right."

The glamorous event brings together the biggest names from political, business and intellectual realms from around the world.

Among the strategic partners for this year's forum, which begins next Wednesday, are Canadian companies Bombardier and Thomson Reuters Corp.

Isabelle Rondeau, a spokesperson for Montreal-based Bombardier, said the company's vice-president of finance, Andrea Teutenberg, will be part of the executive team attending the conference.

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Thomson Reuters is sending more than 80 employees to Switzerland, although many will be there in their capacity as journalists. The company's executive team will include Deirdre Stanley, executive vice-president and general counsel, who will join chief executive officer Thomas Glocer and four other male executives.

David Girardin, a spokesperson for the company, said this will be Ms. Stanley's first visit to Davos. "Given Ms. Stanley's responsibilities, I think it's completely appropriate that she be recognized as a member of our senior delegation at Davos, regardless of any initiative," he said.

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