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Business workshop builds support for OECD Gender Initiative

BIAC & OECD Leadership 
Paris, 2 February 2012 – 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. As government policymakers seek new means to energise growth and job creation, BIAC, AmCham France and the OECD joined together to welcome approximately 100 experts, from business, government and international organisations, to a workshop on "The Business Case for Women’s Economic Empowerment" at the OECD Conference Centre.

Chaired by BIAC Chairman Charles Heeter, the workshop provided business perspectives and best practices to the OECD Gender Initiative, a multi-disciplinary program to update indicators, analyse policy experiences and recommend good practices to achieve more gender equality in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

“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,” Mr. Heeter said. “Nevertheless, despite this positive environment and past efforts over decades to advance economic empowerment of women, progress has been slow. Today’s workshop was an important opportunity for business to contribute to OECD efforts to accelerate change on this issue.”

U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh and OECD Deputy Secretary-General Yves Leterme thanked BIAC and AmCham for the initiative of organising the workshop, highlighting the importance of business perspective in effective policy development.

“By focusing on ‘the how, not the why’ for creating economic opportunity for women, BIAC’s business workshop has greatly assisted the United States and other OECD member countries in our efforts to show that countries can increase equity and growth by harnessing women’s talents, innovation, and leadership,” Ambassador Kornbluh stated.

“New workplace and management solutions are needed that involve more women in senior management and boardrooms and make better use of the great potential of women in business,” said Mr. Leterme. “This meeting provided us with an opportunity to learn more about [private sector] views on what policy can and should do to promote gender equality, and will feed into the OECD Gender Initiative and discussion among Ministers at the Ministerial Council Meeting in May this year.”

Business representatives from various countries and sectors highlighted the business case for women’s economic empowerment through presentations and discussion of company case studies, talent management best practices, and measures of success. Speakers also discussed persisting challenges, company measures to advance retention and advancement of female talent, as well as company initiatives that expand women’s enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Ms. Marina Niforos, Managing Director of AmCham France, and a session moderator concluded that “Company experiences show that CEO engagement matters, but it is not enough. Top leadership matters but it is also not enough. Targeted programmes to promote women internally are important but, alone, are not enough. One success factor address alone is not effective to advance women’s economic empowerment. What is needed is more diversity of tools that act on several levels and greater flexibility to use them in order to have a change in mind-set.”

The workshop also addressed the issue of women on boards. Industry experts shared business views on the benefits of women on boards and on regulatory versus voluntary approaches to addressing bottlenecks.

“There is a clear business case for board diversity from both a performance and governance perspective,” summarised Mr. John Jarrett, Principal and Founder of Jarrett & Associates, and a session moderator. “Women on Boards add value by bringing different skills and experiences, and also serve as positive role models.”

In addressing the low levels of women on boards, markets and government need to take account of local cultural and business practices, but change should be pursued to strengthen diversity and governance. Multiple tools can be brought to bear to achieve diversity on boards. “This does not just mean using quotas or targets or “comply or explain” reporting,” explained Mr. Jarrett. “There is support from business and investors to build the pool of diverse talent through increasing access to networks, seeking out candidates from non-traditional sources, developing more board-preparedness programs and ensuring board recruitment includes diversity, amongst others.”

Ms. Ronnie Goldberg, United States Council for International Business (USCIB) Executive Vice President, and BIAC ELSA Committee Chair, moderated a final session focused on public policy initiatives needed to advance women’s economic empowerment and enable employer best practices.

“The original motive of the workshop was to help the OECD by bringing real life practical experience to its policy work, so to better understand what works and what doesn’t, as well as to identify data gaps and policy options,” said Ms. Goldberg. “The outcomes of today’s workshop and our ongoing engagement with companies and business organisations will inform BIAC’s contribution to the OECD Ministerial in May. We also believe that this work is valuable to our member companies, as they learn from each other and exchange best practices. ”

“The question about whether there is a business case [for women economic empowerment] has been answered; we now need to move to the ‘how’,” added Ms. Niforos. “The business case is about talent and economic objectives – future innovation and competiveness is linked to a ‘balanced and representative talent pipeline’. Companies today are aware that the issue of promoting female talent is tantamount to economic survival.”

As background, BIAC Chairman Charles Heeter addressed gender diversity in the workplace in an article published in the 2012 OECD Yearbook, entitled "Gender Dividend: An urgent economic imperative" (available online here, see page 26).

In addition, Mr. Heeter has published an editorial on a Deloitte Perspectives blog, available online here.

Click here for the Workshop Agenda and Presentations.

For further information on BIAC’s work on woman’s economic empowerment, please contact Nicole Primmer at the BIAC Secretariat.


Copyright 2014, Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC)