I’m honored to join you this morning to discuss “Women in Globalization” and join such a distinguished panel. You know, we represent more than 50 percent of the world’s talent, at least half of its creativity and drive, not to mention its brain power. Some might say a good bit more than half … I couldn’t possibly comment!
Empowering women and helping them find their way as leaders and entrepreneurs in their communities strengthens the fabric of societies and creates new opportunities for economic growth that benefit all citizens. This panel focuses on poverty and radicalization—I believe, as does the United States government, that new and more inclusive economic growth is one of the best ways to sustainably decrease poverty globally. If we want women to create these opportunities, to make these contributions, then we all need to improve women’s ability to safely participate in the workforce and balance our roles as mothers. We get that right, and we transform people’s lives.
When we have the voice and the freedom to make our full contributions, we bring our own ideas, ideals, and perspectives to the firms we might work for, the communities in which we live, and the global challenges we face.
Creating the conditions for an economy that welcomes women into the workforce creates value, not just for the bottom line, but for society. Countries with a greater balance of employed men and women incubate innovation and – on the whole – promote stability. We talk a lot about emerging markets and we often refer to countries or region. The reality, however, is that women make up the world’s fastest growing emerging market, not just one country or one region of the world. We need to celebrate that and embrace it.
Years ago when I was expecting my daughter, Emma, and later when I was seeking to do my job well while caring for the needs of a young child, I struggled to have the support at work that I needed. In the United States it was hard to find affordable childcare and the support I needed to work full time. So I resigned. I left a job working for the US government after more than a decade so that I could have more flexibility and more time with my daughter. That is a choice I will never regret. But imagine it still came to that in the United States.
In the United States we have recently had a lively debate about whether women—in a developed, modern, country like the United States–can have it all. Especially: Can women have it all in a globalized world of 24-7-365 connectivity. Prominent women like Cheryl Sandburg from Facebook and Anne Marie Slaughter, the former head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff—an office I worked in before taking up my current role as Assistant Secretary—have both weighed in as have many others. Books have been written. Articles published. Lively debate ensued on talk shows and social media. Some say yes, women can have it all should lean in, some say no—I come down that women in the US can have it all—but maybe just not all at the same time. Beyond that there is more—our society in the United States still needs to adapt—faster—to the reality that most women are no longer at home on a farm. (I admit find myself wistful about those that are—it sounds ideal to me). If we are in the workforce we are expected to be connected all day and night—how do you DO that?
I – and so many women around the world – face this shared challenge. Some of this is a first-world challenge, but some of it is shared globally even among still developing country’s women. Earlier this month in the United States, we celebrated Mother’s Day. Well, let me be clear, I didn’t. I was traveling. I got my cards three days later when I got home from South America.
Both of our roles – as professionals and as mothers – are critical to the success of countries, and societies should celebrate the enormous contributions women make. And although we have achieved some results, we have much more work to do to ensure women enjoy the same access, rights, and opportunities as men to participate in and benefit from economic activity.
I am very proud to day that President Trump has made empowering women a signature priority of his administration. Our 2017 National Security Strategy states without qualification that “governments that fail to treat women equally do not allow their societies to reach their potential,” and the United States “will support efforts to advance women’s equality, protect the rights of women and girls, and promote women and youth empowerment programs.”
We have taken significant steps to realize this vision, including embracing public policy changes such as simplifying tax codes and increasing tax credits for childcare to enable more women to participate in the economy. The health of the global economy – and of our societies – depends on women being empowered to join the workforce in their local communities and international markets. Yet, around the world, women’s labor force participation rates are unequal, decent work opportunities are far too limited, and significant gender pay gaps in the labor market remain. This is unacceptable.
This year, the White House launched a new whole-of-government effort – the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative – to shape a growing number of international women’s economic empowerment programs. These include the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative at the World Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) 2X Women’s Initiative, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) WomenConnect Challenge. Overall, this effort has three pillars: women prospering in the workforce, women succeeding as entrepreneurs, and women enabled in the economy.
Here’s how we do it: we partner with private sector and civil society leaders to help women in developing countries prosper in the workforce. These efforts include improving and expanding training and education to reflect the market’s demands, supporting career networks, and mentorship. For example, the State Department recently rolled out the Academy of Women Entrepreneur’s Program to enable women in 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to engage in U.S.-style online education with guided facilitation and support from local partners.
The program will foster networks – key to sustainable success – to support Academy participants’ access to mentorship, business partners, and scaling opportunities with businesses in the region and in the United States.
The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative helps women around the world succeed as entrepreneurs, facilitating their contributions to innovation, job creation, and economic growth. Ruth Valladares is a young entrepreneur here in Mexico who runs a chocolate production business with her husband in Oaxaca, a region of Mexico with a 70 percent poverty rate. Ruth and her husband started their business in 2015 hoping to reduce poverty in their small community. Within two years they had a booming business, and today they employ 26 families who work as cacao planters, chocolate refiners, and marketers. In an area with high poverty and outward migration, Ruth is a model of the impact an empowered woman can have on her community and in creating conditions for others to succeed.
While success stories like Ruth’s inspire all of us, too many women entrepreneurs lack access to markets, market information, networks, mentorships, and resources needed to found, fund, and grow firms. This Initiative enables working women to address these challenges by removing restrictive legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers. Women who face unpaid care, gender-based violence, underinvestment in their education, need for spousal approval for employment, or other legal barriers have a harder time participating in their economies.
Our Senior Advisor to the President, Ivanka Trump, has spearheaded and supported one of our most successful programs targeting these barriers as well as legal ones. The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative or We-Fi, has already raised more than $350 million in contributions and leveraged $1.6 billion in blended finance. We-Fi works with banks to address barriers to women’s entrepreneurship, provide capital, innovative tools, and mentorship opportunities to reduce financial constraints facing women entrepreneurs.
In addition, the US government’s investment arm, OPIC, committed to mobilize $500 million to projects supporting women in Latin America. OPIC has also enabled emerging market private equity funds to assist women in Latin America and the Caribbean through Fund Mujer, a new partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank’s IDB Invest and the first gender-focused fund for Latin America and the Caribbean. These financing tools provide a critical link to help struggling women entrepreneurs succeed in their businesses.
At the Department of State, we know as an organization we cannot succeed without women leaders. I am only the second woman—the first non-career woman—ever confirmed by the Senate to serve as Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs—as hard as that is to believe it is true.
As you can see, things are changing.
Of the 28 U.S. Embassies in the Western Hemisphere, we have 14 women Chiefs of Mission and eight women Deputy Chiefs of Mission. Women also comprise nearly 60 percent of my front office policy team. In my current role as Assistant Secretary, I value diversity, fresh perspectives, and creative solutions to solving complex problems. Women in leadership who achieve results are essential to organizational success.
Those of you living in Latin America understand this. This is why I’m so impressed with Mexico’s achievement with women reaching nearly 50 percent of all seats in the Cámara de Diputados and Senado.
In these months on the job I have had the opportunity to meet amazing, talented, women across the region. The first is Fabiana Rosales—the wife of Venezuelan interim President Juan Guaido. Fabiana is the picture of courage, determination, and grit in the face of threats to her family, to her life, to her husband and her child. She has faced down security services that entered her home and threatened her baby. Fabiana, along with Juan Guaido is staring down the barrel of a ruthless dictatorship. She is not neutral or uninvolved. She is risking her life. Her bravery is an inspiration to us all.
During a recent visit to South America, I met with Paraguay’s first female Attorney General, Sandra Quinonez. Her story is a telling example of Paraguay’s commitment to combating organized crime and corruption. Sandra has prosecuted a number of high profile kidnapping cases and investigated and secured eight convictions. Sandra exemplifies courage and integrity under extremely challenging conditions and has significantly contributed to greater security for all Paraguayans.
One of this year’s winners of the U.S. Secretary of State’s “International Women of Courage Award” is an example of how the strength and courage of one woman can change the security situation in the hemisphere. Flor de María Vega Zapata is Peru’s national coordinator for Environmental Prosecutors and leads a team that investigates and prosecutes transnational criminal organizations engaged in the multi-billion dollar criminal enterprises of illegal mining and illegal logging. Despite threats from these organizations and entrenched political and economic interests seeking to discredit and derail her work, Flor brought together Peru’s environmental enforcement interagency to disrupt illegal mining activities.
The United States and much of the region are focused on combating transnational organized crime, corruption, impunity, and violence. Yet we will only achieve lasting results with policies that strengthen rule of law, create economic opportunities in the formal economy, and address the impacts on the most vulnerable populations. Our efforts must take into account the populations we seek to serve and help. I believe it is essential that more women and girls from all backgrounds participate more fully in security efforts. Their voices and experiences are critical to ensuring policy effectiveness and long-term security. Women leaders, such as Fabiana Rosales, Flor de María Vega Zapata and Sandra Quinonez, are examples of the transforming effects of empowering women in societies.
I have been in and out of government for over 20 years. My experience in government and in business has affirmed for me that supporting the inclusion of women in traditionally male-dominated jobs can lead to direct security and prosperity benefits.
Empowering women to contribute to their communities starts with equal access to opportunities.
The United States recognizes that when education lags, economies will not prosper, and democracies cannot thrive. Thus, the United States is prioritizing people-to-people relationships through our 100,000 Strong in the Americas and Young Leaders of the Americas initiatives to help citizens – and women – create prosperity and innovation in their own homes and communities. Teaching English to girls from historically marginalized communities in Colombia has enabled many women to apply to universities. In particular, one of them landed a spot in a U.S. exchange program that would not have been possible without this focus on language assistance for girls.
The United States recognizes the powerful role that women of all backgrounds can play as change agents and as a cohesive force in societies and the importance of empowering more women leaders throughout the region to achieve greater economic prosperity. By investing in women and girls, we are investing in families in ways that will have generational impacts for years to come for our hemisphere and for the world.
But we can do more. Perhaps the best advice I ever received is a simple thing—it is individual. We do many things as governments and leaders in large organization, but we can do the small things every day as well. The next time you are in a meeting a woman voices a view—speak up—echo it. Restate it, emphasize it. And please, start this practice by first pulling up a seat at the table. Always assume your seat is at the table. Dare them to tell you otherwise.