Tory Frame, an Irish-born partner in the London office of the consulting group Bain & Co., used to always try to keep gender out of business. "I always thought I had to act like the male partners to get to be a partner," she said. "I didn't have any female role models, and I had a very specific view of leadership."
But in 2005, she attended the first Women's Forum for the Economy and Society along with about 500 other women, and it changed her, she said.
"I came here and I heard loads of women speaking in their own way - clear leaders, but without conforming to that male stereotype, and it encouraged me to be myself, to use empathy and humor," said Frame, who has an MBA from Harvard. "It had a very big impact on me. I saw that there are ways to be very powerful, but also warm."
The annual meeting of the Women's Forum, which ended Saturday and included 1,200 women, is modeled on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the famous global talkathon. The Women's Forum, on the Web at www.womens-forum.com,offered three days of lectures, panels, brainstorming sessions and guided conversations on the issues of the moment: the global economic meltdown, the American presidential election, foreign policy, environmental problems, China, Russia, India. Well-known politicians and speakers, both women and men, came from all over the world.
Befitting France, earnest talk of global poverty, child abuse and the dangers of the economic crisis for philanthropy was mixed with lavish meals, champagne and espresso.
The Women's Forum was the brainchild of Aude Zieseniss de Thuin, 58, a French businesswoman who once applied to go to the Davos economic forum without success. Angry, she decided that Davos, with many fewer women than men, should have a more female-friendly counterpart. The idea, she said, was not to create a feminist institution but "to give a voice to women, half of the population," and help provide role models.
The current economic shock "will probably be terrible for many women around the world," especially in poor countries, she said.
"I think it's the beginning of a new world, a worse one, a more difficult one, especially for women. But I'm also optimistic, because it's a time for women to take responsibility."