BIAC OECD Economic Empowerment of Women forum
Introductory remarks by Charles P. Heeter, BIAC Chairman
(Note: Prepared for delivery. Actual remarks may vary.)
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you here this morning and to say how happy we are that you are able to join us for this important workshop on the economic empowerment of women.
BIAC is especially pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the American Chamber of Commerce in France and the OECD in organizing this event.
A special thank-you to thank Marina Niforos, AmCham’s Managing Director, for her support and for the fruitful cooperation that has been established with BIAC on gender equality issues. Also, thank you to Ambassador Karen Kornbluh for her leadership and for the engagement of her team at the U.S. mission to stimulate our dialogue across all of the relevant policy areas on gender equality at OECD.
My thanks also to the OECD. We are pleased to be working together with you across directorates and to have this opportunity to put forward the business case for women’s economic empowerment.
Finally, a special note of appreciation to my friend, the Secretary-General, Angel Gurria, for his commitment to carrying forward the work on gender equality here at the OECD.
The business case for the economic empowerment of women is not new, but certainly needs much more attention.
Women are a critical resource in facing the challenges of our global economy, both as an emerging market and as a significant pool of human talent. We are fortunate to live at a time when technology, the Internet and mobility enable information sharing, communications, and resource allocation that can help advance gender equality. Nevertheless, despite this positive environment and past efforts over decades to advance the economic empowerment of women, progress has been slow.
Women represent the biggest emerging market – US$28 trillion in consumer spending and US$18 trillion in earnings by 2014 - so it makes sense to refocus efforts in capturing the gender dividend. (The Gender Dividend: Deloitte Global Services Ltd.)
Women represent a significant percentage of the workforce and of college graduates—and yet have not reached a proportional role in decision making in key industries. In Europe, for example, women make up 45 percent of the workforce—and more than half of all college graduates—yet comprise only 11 percent of corporate executives. At the current rate of progress, these numbers won’t make it to a mere 20 percent until sometime after 2035. Many, if not most, of us in this room will be retired by then! (McKinsey report: Women Matter)
Addressing this issue is about more than just ―fairness, although living up to espoused values of integrity, respect and opportunity is critical for our societies’ well-being and stability. Inequality in gender empowerment also raises serious economic issues for countries at all stages of development, as well as considerable business challenges for all kinds of enterprises, particularly for those that value and rely on human skills and resources.
Research by Deloitte and others shows that there is a high level of acceptance of the business case for empowering women. Governments, business and communities are paying attention to this issue:
- The OECD is leading programs on gender equality addressing key issues of employment, education, entrepreneurship, women in governance, and enhancing opportunities for women in developing countries.
- And the issue is on the agendas of many international for a, such as the G20 and APEC.
There are formidable examples of developments across business to further the economic empowerment of women, whether in talent management and other operational programs or through corporate responsibility and community investment activities. We will soon hear directly from our panelists on this.
However, the results are mixed, and some are questioning whether there is more head–nodding about the business impact, than actual rolling up of sleeves to make a difference. We’ll see where the jury comes out on this one at the end of the day.
But It seems businesses are not seeing the results that they or their communities were expecting; at least not at the accelerated pace of change consistent with the level of attention given to gender and the ostensible level of related activities.
Only 14 percent of senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies are held by women, a number that has barely budged since 2005. A global study of the number of women on boards is even more dismal – only 9.4 percent globally, up marginally from 9.2 percent in 2009. This, despite economic studies that show corporations with women on their boards and in leadership positions have a higher return on equity. In Europe, the higher margin of return has been estimated at more than 10 percent.
As we all appreciate, there is a policy dimension to effecting change. Gender equality has many dimensions affected by societal norms, legal and regulatory frameworks, and local cultures, requiring the interaction of government, business and many other aspects of society to make a difference.
This is why the OECD has such a powerful and important role – in providing substantive information and analysis, statistical evidence, and further research across disciplines that can be used to shape policy development and to promote gender equality within its member countries.
The OECD’s Gender Initiative aims to identify, bring together and update a set of indicators on the key dimensions of gender inequality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. We will hear from the OECD on this later, but what is important here is that providing sound information that can demonstrate progress, or otherwise, is critical to effect change on this issue.
BIAC is very engaged in contributing to the OECD effort. Our members face challenges in enhancing gender equity influenced by the maturity of their organizations, the development of their markets, cultural norms and the legal and regulatory frameworks within which they operate.
Still, many BIAC member companies are leading best-in-class activities, whether it be in addressing inequalities in the workplace – such as access to job opportunities or equal pay – or supporting community investment programs aimed at building the supply of female workers or expanding entrepreneurship opportunities for women.
Deloitte has identified some trends that are worth mentioning:
- Some companies are looking for diversity of thought – meaning different perspectives, capabilities, points of reference, that come from including and leveraging a broader talent pool. They are using diversity to break down barriers to business success such as group think, while addressing needed reforms such as inclusive leadership. In this context, the representation of women provides very tangible evidence about whether an organization really is open to diversity, or is just paying lip service to the idea.
- Others are questioning the "men from Mars, women from Venus" stereotypes and thinking about how the workplace needs to adapt to modern families and career aspirations, rather than perpetuate traditional views which put men and women into separate camps.
- Further, men are being seen more and more as collaborators and champions of change to enhance the economic empowerment of women. In fact, research shows that steps taken to support the economic empowerment of women in the workplace have not just been good for women, but for us men as well – although many men still perceive such practices as predominantly special support for women — a societal norm that needs to change.
These are positive trends if developed, because it’s where the rubber hits the road and how the dividend for companies and communities can be realized in dollars and cents.
Data in a Deloitte study shows that Fortune 500 companies in the top quartile when it comes to women’s representation on boards outperform those in the lower quartile by at least 53 percent on return on equity.
A study by researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland comparing the S&P 1500 companies performance with themselves over 15 years shows a gender dividend of over 1.6 percent, representing US$35million, on average.
But there is more to the dividend than money. There is the potential for better, more informed decision-making in our societies, an educated and diverse source of talent for private and public institutions, and role models who can inspire billions of women and men worldwide.
As you will hear from our panelists, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this matter. Some practices have worked, and others have not reached proposed targets. Today we are here to look at why this is the case.
We will hear from business about the best practices they are implementing and some of the hurdles and opportunities they’ve faced. We’ll try to identify key public policies needed to enable employer best practices and advance women’s economic empowerment. And we’ll identify areas for further OECD work on key issues and questions raised by the workshop.
Using the outcomes of this meeting, and the ongoing engagement with our membership, BIAC will develop a report for the OECD Council Ministerial being held in June 2012. We will share our learnings, including those from today, with the OECD and the Ministers, to contribute to their work on development of best practices that promote the economic empowerment of women, through education, employment, and entrepreneurship.
I’ll say it again: Women’s economic empowerment is not just about fairness, but it is the future, and all of us in this room have something of substance to offer in furthering this issue and realizing the economic benefits it will create for individuals, their families, and society at large. I’m delighted you are here and encourage your active involvement.