Women at Davos go from sidelines to headlines

The World Economic Forum's annual confab this month took place at a unique point in the group's 48-year history. It was the first WEF annual meeting to be chaired entirely by women. It was also the first to take place during a time when, by the WEF's own metrics, women's progress toward parity with men had begun to move backwards.

For a long time, the yearly gathering was another demonstration of women's underrepresentation, so much so that the meeting's organizers put in place their own quotas back in 2011 to try to remedy the problem. 

And this year, with the portion of female speakers and delegates nearly reaching one-fifth, saw a marked shift, said Barri Rafferty, CEO of public-relations consultancy Ketchum.

"What started as a female issue became a business issue this year," Rafferty told CBS News. "This year, female topics -- whether it was pay equity, equality -- really moved from the side room and being an HR topic to being a C-suite topic." 

When Rafferty first attended the forum's annual meeting in 2012, she recalls being frequently mistaken for the spouse of an invited guest. That's no longer the case, she said. 

While the WEF meeting -- like the rest of the world -- has a long way to go to reach full parity between the sexes, it has taken center stage in the discussion. Most significantly, Rafferty said, it's not just women talking: Male leaders and heads of state took up the issue, too.