Report: World Economic Forum hotbed of sexual harassment, racism

The World Economic Forum (WEF), which has long billed itself as a champion of minorities and “gender equality,” has a workplace culture that is hostile to women and Black people, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

‘Colleagues visibly withdraw from themselves’

The report was published late last month based on interviews with over 80 current and former WEF employees. Some are members of a WhatsApp group called “WEFugees,” where hundreds of past and present WEF personnel discuss their traumatic experiences from working at the Forum.

Farid Ben Amor, who resigned from the WEF after over a year of working there, said: “It was distressing to witness colleagues visibly withdraw from themselves with the onslaught of harassment at the hands of high-level staff, going from social and cheerful to self-isolating, avoiding eye contact, sharing nightmares for years after. It’s particularly distressing when contrasted with the eagerness and earnestness with which many of us joined the Forum.”

High expectations for expectant mothers 

Despite advocating for more maternity leave for women, at least six female WEF employees who became pregnant were reportedly either driven out or suffered damage to their careers. 

The WEF has promoted maternity leave as a woman’s right, not a privilege, and stressed the importance of hiring new mothers in the workplace.

But when one executive returned from maternity leave in 2018, WEF Managing Director Jeremy Jurgens began bullying her and told her he did not like her. When she complained to HR, she was told to seek counseling.

Three years later, she overworked herself and suffered a miscarriage. While in the hospital bed, she texted her husband: “It’s not the kind of place that you can confidentially declare [you’re] pregnant to your manager and expect that the workload might be eased whilst trying to juggle first trimester exhaustion.”

Topaz Smith, a WEF employee who had twins last year, came back from maternity leave to find her role given to someone else. She was offered a six-month temporary position.

“It is a psychologically violent institution, and I don’t understand how they have the credibility to write this Gender Gap report and dictate how economies and industries are run globally,” she said.

Other new mothers shared similar accounts of returning from maternity leave and either being heavily criticized for their performance or receiving lesser or temporary roles.

Sexual harassment

While the organization is known for crusading against sexual harassment in the workplace, women say they have been sexually harassed by WEF higher-ups, including the Forum’s founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab. 

Several female employees were cautioned against being found alone with Schwab, who is reportedly prone to making discomforting comments about women’s appearances. Three women who each worked closely under Schwab said the executive chairman’s suggestive comments made them feel uncomfortable. One of those women, who worked as Schwab’s receptionist, had to assert to Schwab more than once that she did not want a sexual relationship with him.

A female staffer said she recalls Schwab planting his foot on the desk and flaunting his crotch in her face. He told her he wished she was Hawaiian because he wanted to see her in a Hawaiian costume.

More than once, Schwab told her: “I need to find you a man, and if I were not married, I would put myself on the top of that list.”

But Scwhab’s comments on women’s appearances did not always express his attraction toward them.

Barbara Erskine, who worked for over 10 years at the Forum, said Schwab instructed a board member to tell her to lose weight. The chairman also told other employees that she “had no charm.”

Schwab likes to personally staff Forum events, such as the annual Davos summit, with attractive women. They are expected to be at the “beck and call” of VIP attendees, who are known to invite the female staffers to their hotel rooms. 

“There was a lot of pressure to be good-looking and wear tight dresses,” said one woman. “Never in my career have I experienced looks being such an important topic as in the Forum.” 

Justyna Swiatkowska, a former WEF employee, says she was asked out for drinks by George Karam, a Forum manager. While they were out, Karam began forcibly touching and kissing Swiatkowska, who later told HR that the incident made her “traumatized and afraid to go to work.” She also said that she was not Karam’s first victim and that there had been other women, but it took WEF leadership three years to take action after the first complaint was lodged against Karam. He was eventually fired but soon found work at an organization that partnered with the WEF.

Another female employee reported that Malte Godbersen, who currently serves as the WEF’s head of technology and digital services, once had her take off her shirt and assume certain positions while he pretended to be a doctor. The incident, which occurred during a flu vaccination drive in 2010, drew laughter from WEF Managing Director Jeremy Jurgens.

Almost immediately after complaining to HR, the staffer said her work was heavily criticized by her boss and she was fired within months.

Some of the managers being accused of mistreating female employees helped publish the WEF’s “Global Gender Gap Report,” which promotes the debunked theory that women make less money than men due to sexism.


Despite declaring racism a “public health threat” and pushing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the organization is accused of sidelining Black employees. Kimberly Bennett, one Black employee, complained to leadership when the WEF’s DEI team sent only White staffers to Davos. 

“What does it say about our commitment to DEI if most of the representatives we choose to send to our most important event are white?” Bennett wrote. She received no response.

Black Forum employees also complain that they are routinely passed over for promotions and recall White WEF managers using the word “n*gger” around them.

“That was the most disappointing thing, to see the distance between what the Forum aspires to and what happens behind the scenes,” said Cheryl Martin, a former top WEF executive. Martin previously served as the deputy director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, an agency within the US Department of Energy.

The World Economic Forum which employs over 1,000 people internationally has denied almost all accusations.