International Women’s Day
Ladies and gentlemen
To all of you here today - Happy International Women’s Day!
Today we have gathered global champions for change: entrepreneurs, innovators, activists, investors, decision-makers, politicians and leaders of different kinds.
We have brought together people who want to achieve gender equality and a more sustainable world by 2030.
We have gathered YOU: Stars in the struggle for a more fair future.
Here comes a small digression: My first encounter with female entrepreneurship. When I was a child, my mother and aunts started their own company. Mabrielle. This was in the 80s, and the company’s only product was something you could wear; a sort of juicy couture-ish pyjama dress. Their vision must have been to create – maybe not a fairer world – but certainly a softer one. At least for all the women in our neighbourhood. They didn’t get rich. But the value of self-respect and autonomy from the experience of creating a small business surpassed the lack of large revenues.
International Women’s Day is for all the women who are left behind. Mothers, daughters and sisters with less opportunities. But it is also a day for all the women and men who are leading the way. Many of them are in this room – or following us live across the world – from Soweto to Wall Street
Women left behind are a vast, unused mass of wise minds, strong hands and warm hearts. Throughout the world, we are still missing out on the untapped potential of women entrepreneurs, investors, creators and workers. We are also missing out on innovation, perspectives and experience that we need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Almost two billion people today have little or no access to financial services. Most of them are women. This means that they are unable to engage fully in the global economy in the same way as men. It is more difficult for women to be self-employed, to raise the funding they need to make their companies grow – and to find inspiring role models who can help them step into male-dominated industries such as technology and manufacturing. Women entrepreneurs can only engage fully in the economy and achieve financial independence if they too have access to the formal financial system.
We need to ask ourselves - why do women still face these challenges? And what can we do about it?
Part of the answer to achieving financial inclusion and gender equality may be provided by disruptive technologies and solutions developed by women entrepreneurs. These women are not just innovating for business – they are innovating for change. Their projects and solutions are key drivers of women’s economic empowerment.
Men have traditionally dominated the tech startup scene. Recently, this industry, like many others, has faced tough questions. People are not only objecting to offensive behaviour – like the MeToo movement – but also questioning traditions, values and the status quo. I believe we should take this opportunity and turn it into real changes for women.
According to a recent report, only one in five of the computing work force were women in 2015. More women and more gender diversity in tech companies shouldn’t be a goal just because it would be “nice”. A study conducted by McKinsey estimates that gender equality at work would add 12 trillion dollars to the world economy.
Gender equality should be a business priority because it works.
Some studies indicate that startups led by women have a higher chance of survival. And some suggest that women-led startups are more profitable than those led by men. Research also shows that female-founded companies perform better than those founded by men, and that young female entrepreneurs have a higher success rate than men.
So it seems obvious that the tech industry and its investors should strive to make use of the women’s potential. Not because it sounds good – but because it is good business.
I am incredibly grateful to have grown up in Norway – one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. Still, women also in my country are under-represented in several industries – also as entrepreneurs. However, over the last 10 years, the proportion of female entrepreneurs in Norway has risen to about 30 per cent. What is the reason behind this change?
One possible explanation could be that Norway has generous arrangements for parental leave. Parents can stay at home with a small child for a total of one year on full pay. Parental leave is shared between mothers and fathers. Shared family responsibilities strengthen women’s position in the labour market. We also have enough kindergartens for all children, and at subsidised rates. This system makes it possible for both women and men to combine work and family life.
Norway is a small country, and we cannot afford to use only part of our human capital. In fact, I don´t think any country can afford to do so.
We need to make use of the resources of both women and men in promoting social development. Entrepreneurship is one important aspect of this. The Sustainable Development Goals provide the main track for addressing the root causes of poverty, conflict and inequality. Today we all recognise that the SDGs are a global compact that requires us to work in partnerships.
We know that gender equality is smart economics. We know it from Norway where women’s labour participation is part and parcel of the welfare state and economic growth. We know it from international research findings, which tell us that labour productivity could rise by as much as 25 percent in a number of countries if barriers to women working in certain sectors were eliminated.
Countries that deny half of their population the right to enter the formal workforce, to be entrepreneurs or to take on leadership positions are reducing their own potential for economic development.
Currently, 70 percent of women-owned small and medium-size businesses in the developing world cannot access the funding they need. Many also face discriminatory legal frameworks and limited access to technology, funding and networks.
Many of these challenges that I have talked about today need to be solved through innovation and in the private sector. We also need partnerships to achieve results. I would therefore like to congratulate Innovation Norway and UN Women on their new partnership. In this turbulent and unstable world, where there are tremendous needs to be met, new approaches like this are urgently needed. By sharing a common vision, while recognising that you have different competences and qualities – you have already come far.
I have been fortunate enough in my life to meet and follow a number of women entrepreneurs over time. I admire their dreams, their talents and their achievements. But most of all I admire their boldness; their courage in taking risks, challenging the society’s expectations and building businesses that make a difference.
They are – as you are, stars in the struggle. Stars that light up the sky and makes it easier for all of us to find the right way.