Making diversity, equity, and inclusion opportunities into reality

by Maria Fernanda Garza, Chair International Chamber of Commerce

The following keynote address was given by Maria at the B20 Summit in Bali on 13 November 2022.

Women have been a growing factor in the success of the global economy since the 1970s. The additional productive power of women entering the workforce over the past 50 years accounts for about a [quarter] of global GDP.

But, still, the full potential of women in the workforce has yet to be tapped. This is not only a moral failure. It represents a missed economic opportunity of truly massive proportions.

Given the many headwinds the world faces today, it is critically important that we strive together to bring more women into the workforce… And fully deploy the talents, ideas and capabilities of women to create new economic opportunities and drive productivity growth across the world.

As the work of the B20 this year has shown, however, creating the conditions to unlock the full potential of women to achieve our shared economic goals is a complex and difficult challenge.

At a corporate level, where many high-skill women are employed, the opportunity is to continue to advance women into leadership positions where they can make the greatest contributions. Despite the sincere efforts of major corporations, the proportion of women falls quickly as you look higher in corporate hierarchies. Overall, this picture has not improved for years. Indeed, the fact that I am the first woman chair of ICC in its 100-year history is, arguably, symptomatic of a broader trend. One which clearly calls for a step-change in approach from business leaders. In short, we can no longer just have good intentions when it comes to gender parity in the leadership of companies. We need to deliver far better results.

However, I want to focus today on what is arguably a bigger challenge at the macro-level.

Specifically, the potential to raise the labour participation rates of women in most – if not all – economies, including those of the G20. Women make up half the world’s population but only constitute around 40% of the global workforce according to the latest data from the International Labour Organization. What’s more, emerging evidence shows, that women were disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing crisis in terms of unemployment and business closures. Sadly, the same pattern is likely in the context of economic disruptions currently being felt as a consequence of the war in Ukraine.

In this context, it is vital that all governments do not lose focus on the specific needs of women entrepreneurs, producers and workers when providing financial incentives and other means to restart businesses. G20 governments must lead the way in this regard.

On a related note, as ICC, we also see a important role for the G20 in driving reforms to better harness the global trading system as a vector of gender equality and women’s empowerment. By way of context, I want to be clear that over the last 50 years international commerce has been a powerful force for the inclusion of women in the workforce.

My point is that there is more we can do to leverage trade as a driver of genuine inclusion. There is, for example, a growing evidence base to show that when women entrepreneurs seek to trade, they face legal, commercial and cultural barriers that limit the growth of their businesses.

I believe, in the current economic context, there is a strong rationale for concerted international action to tackle these barriers:

  • In order for societies to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic and the Ukraine war, we need to engage all businesses and workers to revitalize our economies;
  • Resilient supply chains require diversified suppliers, which means better engaging women entrepreneurs and producers; and
  • Digital technologies are creating remarkable opportunities to boost the participation of women in global trade…

In this context – and picking up on some of the excellent recommendations from the B20’s communique – I would like to suggest four specific areas where the G20 is uniquely placed to accelerate the inclusion of women in cross border trade.

First, G20 governments should adopt a cast-iron commitment to adopt language in their existing WTO commitments that would oblige them to ban gender discrimination when it comes to participation in the global economy.

Second, the G20 should commit to a clear action plan, with annual targets, to close the gender connectivity gap by 2030.

While mobile connectivity expanded rapidly over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s reach did not extend equally… leaving women behind, according to the latest industry data.

 A new ICC study[1], published earlier this year, points to innovative models that can be harnessed by governments to bring meaningful connectivity to everyone, everywhere.

ICC WHITE PAPER: DELIVERING UNIVERSAL MEANINGFUL CONNECTIVITY

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Despite enormous progress in expanding connectivity (94% of the world’s population lives in areas covered by a broadband network), only 63% of the global population were using the Internet in 2021, with 2.9 bn people still remaining offline. Closing these coverage and usage gaps depends on addressing barriers to any of the three layers of the digital ecosystem (infrastructure, application and skills). This requires an appropriate mix of economic, technical and regulatory approaches—and hinges largely on private sector investment. Drawing on extensive consultations with business across a broad range of geographies, this paper aims to:

• Identify, clarify, and classify major obstacles to delivering connectivity.

• Spotlight innovative and scalable industry approaches to tackle coverage and usage gaps.

• Establish an actionable roadmap for policymakers to enable and support business efforts to deliver meaningful connectivity and drive associated private sector investment. Based on the learnings and strategies derived from the private sector’s experience, we offer the following two basic principles for policymaking and highlight three priority areas for improvement.

• Policy and regulatory mechanisms should promote the value of the entire communications and digital services ecosystem.

• Policies should be non-discriminatory, technology-neutral, and supportive of innovative business models and the development and deployment of a wide range of technologies, standards, and system architectures.

To incentivise rapid and efficient action to close the connectivity gap, governments, in collaboration with businesses worldwide, should: 1. Facilitate investment across the entire digital value chain 2. Effectively manage spectrum 3. Ground policies in evidence and data.

I believe the G20 is uniquely placed to drive this agenda – and, in doing so, unlock the full potential of ecommerce and digital tools for women-owned businesses around the world.

Third, we know that difficulties accessing trade-related finance are a particularly acute barrier to the growth of women-owned businesses. The G20 should adopt a commitment to significantly scale the availability of trade finance guarantees for women entrepreneurs – building on existing development bank schemes, such as those offered by the IFC.

And, finally, we believe that the G20 should provide an explicit mandate to the World Bank to collect gender disaggregated trade data from 2023 onwards.

Faster progress in targeted data collection will help us identify and develop more effective solutions to the problems women are experiencing.

These are the sorts of specific, practical measures that we feel can make a real difference to the participation of women owned business in international commerce. And, by extension, the shape of the recovery from the shocks we have all faced since 2020.

On that note, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the leadership shown by B20 Indonesia on these and other gender issues over the past year. The final communique contains a compelling action agenda that I believe it is incumbent on us all as business leaders to stand behind.

And, finally, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my full support to the One Global Women Empowerment legacy platform from B20 Indonesia. We see real potential for this initiative to act as a unifying force and catalyst to accelerate the development of policies and programs aim at supporting women in business.

And please count on the full support of ICC’s global network in the future development of what I believe will be a very important legacy from a truly remarkable B20 cycle.


[1] https://iccwbo.org/publication/icc-white-paper-on-delivering-universal-meaningful-connectivity/