The W20 and B20 Women in Business Action Council members convened for a virtual meeting on 18 June 2020 to initiate a discussion on common themes, women entrepreneurship and Covid-19. Captured below is a synopsis of the discussion between the W20 Chair – Dr. Thoraya Obaid and Ms. Rania Nashar, Chair of the Women in Business Action Council at B20 Saudi Arabia.
Q1: What is the scope and focus of B20 Women in Business Action Council and W20?
The goal of our Action Council is to provide policy recommendations to address issues surrounding gender diversity and the economic empowerment of women. Data indicates that gender disparity persists in three distinct areas: employment, professional growth and career advancement. To help change that, our priority areas are focused on:
- leveling the playing field for women
- boosting female entrepreneurship and creating enabling environments for women-owned start-ups
- amplifying synergies between stakeholders by ensuring women’s voices are heard in the development of policies.
The idea of addressing gender inequality across all levels through an action council allows us to provide action-oriented policy recommendations that are focused on issues we are facing today. Ultimately, we would like to create an environment to level the playing field between women and men in the workplace. This would be good for business and healthy for the future of global economies.
Dr. Thoraya Obaid:
The Women 20 and Women in Business Action Council share a common goal of empowering women economically and creating a global business environment that will boost women’s entrepreneurship. By working together, we can bring the gender equality agenda to a wider array of audiences and stakeholders within the G20 and beyond, and influence policies that will ideally bring about positive changes for women globally. We look forward to joining forces in three key ways – outreach, alliance and advocacy – to create greater momentum for policies that will empower women in business.
Q2: What are common themes for the W20 and the B20 Women in Business Action Council?
The W20 and B20 Women in Business Action Council share three overarching themes in addressing gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. These are: Women’s Participation in Workforce, Women Entrepreneurship and Women in Decision-Making.
Women’s Participation in Workforce: Both, W20 and our Action Council are working to address labor underutilization, which we know is more prevalent among women. The labor force participation rate of women worldwide was 48% in 2018 – 26.5% below that of men. The inclusion of women in the labor force has been a high priority for G20 members with some progress being made towards the achievement of the Brisbane 25×25 target of reducing the gender gap in labor force participation by 25% in 2025.
Women Entrepreneurship: The second common theme for us is female entrepreneurship. A common challenge for all G20 countries is facilitating entrepreneurship among women, including increased financing, training opportunities, services, and gender‐smart procurement. Three-quarters of today’s fastest-growing companies in Europe and the US have no women in senior leadership positions. To foster and promote female business ownership and entrepreneurship, we must create enabling environments for women start-ups and should identify ways to mentor and train budding entrepreneurs.
Women in Decision-Making: Concerted action across all countries and stakeholders is essential for achieving equal participation and success of women in business. The objective is to not only increase women’s participation in the workforce but also for them to get a seat at the decision-making table and be actively involved in policy formulation as well as driving policy implementation.
Dr. Thoraya Obaid:
The underrepresentation of women in decision-making is a reality I have faced and continue to face. Chairing the W20 represents a culmination of my years of work on women’s empowerment. I feel truly humbled to now sit at a table with extraordinary women and men of all backgrounds working toward the common goal of gender equality. This focus on women in decision-making is a priority for both Engagement Groups, as true change can only take place when women are active participants in all aspects of the decision-making processes in both public and private spheres. Connected to this are the issues around women’s participation in the workforce. While substantial progress has been made towards the realization of the Brisbane 25×25 target, the journey towards an equitable labor force is far from over. Our third interlinked focus is on the cross-cutting policies to promote women’s entrepreneurship.
Q3: Let’s discuss about women entrepreneurs. We are witnessing an increasing number of women innovators and we can expect more of that as an outcome of the pandemic. How can countries best support women entrepreneurs?
Female entrepreneurs make significant contributions to economic growth and reduction in poverty rates around the world. Yet, women face a lot of challenges when they start a business. Women are also less likely to become a start-up entrepreneur. Only 28% of startups had a female founder according to a Silicon Valley bank report. Three-quarters of today’s fastest-growing companies in Europe and the US have no women in senior leadership positions.
Developing the entrepreneurial capacity and leadership capability of women is key to unlocking their economic potential. To encourage more women to start and own business, we must first build an enabling entrepreneurship-ecosystem which offers them low barriers to entry, supporting government policies, access to finance and infrastructure, and most importantly, a normative culture that supports entrepreneurship. Countries should set targets to increase female entrepreneurship and monitor their growth. The Saudi Arabia G20 Presidency has also made empowerment of women and youth a focus of its 2020 agenda.
Dr. Thoraya Obaid:
Promoting, developing and strengthening the role of women in entrepreneurship will help address gaps in existing national policies and plans that negatively affect women; and increase a thriving, economy-boosting SME sector. We are calling for immediate action during the pandemic for economic security for SMEs; including tax exemptions, suspension of mortgages, and loans for freelance women workers and entrepreneurs. We know that women-owned businesses and SMEs create a positive impact in their communities. Longer term systemic changes to remove barriers on access to finance; and amending the legal framework and regulations that hinder women’s entrepreneurship, can help ensure a recovery where innovators are able to thrive.
Q4: Women have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. How can we help them deal with outcomes of the pandemic and ensure they have better opportunities in the future?
Hundreds of millions of people around the world have been severely constrained by the immediate impact of COVID-19 – but women are particularly affected, and also susceptible, to long-term implications of this pandemic. Women are at most risk of being exposed to the virus as, globally, they make up 70% of workers in health and social sectors. Sadly, there is also the reality that more women work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs and have less access to social protections.
Given its exacerbating impact on women, there is an urgent need to ensure that women are engaged at all stages of national and local response and decision-making. The collaboration of governments and private sector is a necessity to mitigate the risk and impact of this global pandemic.
Dr. Thoraya Obaid:
The COVID-19 crisis will severely exacerbate existing gender inequalities and further impede the advancement of the women’s agenda. G20 leaders have an opportunity to develop policy responses to the pandemic that immediately address women’s roles in healthcare, unpaid care and the workforce. As we rebuild the economy, we need to ensure that there is a recognition of the role of women in the labor market, by developing economic financial stimulus packages and protection that contemplate emergency child-care provision to encourage the division of caretaking roles and tasks between parents. An important shift that needs to occur is to include women in national and global COVID-19 outbreak preparedness and response policy and operational spaces in line with the recommendation by the WHO Executive Board.
Today, not only do we run the risk of delaying progress, we are at a high-risk of losing progress that has been made so far. G20 governments have committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 5 on gender equality. While we work to recover from the damage caused by this global crisis, we must put in place immediate protections to follow this roadmap to a more equitable post COVID-19.