Private Sector Innovation and Women’s Entrepreneurship

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Sarah Thorn

Senior Director, Global Government Affairs, Walmart

Jane Nelson

Director, Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School


Director and Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Jane Nelson and Sarah Thorn will discuss strategies to grow women’s entrepreneurship worldwide, with a particular emphasis on the role of the private sector. They will address the importance of public-private partnerships to train female entrepreneurs and facilitate the integration of women-owned businesses into global supply chains. This meeting is part of a high-level series on women and development, generously sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation. 


VOGELSTEIN: (In progress)—has worked with leading scholars for more than a decade to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives.

I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to Noa Gimelli, the director of the Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative at ExxonMobil, for her continued support for the Council’s work, including our meeting this morning.

Today, this morning’s ExxonMobil Roundtable on Women and Development is focused on private sector innovation and women’s entrepreneurship. And it comes at a turning point for the global economic development agenda at the dawn of a sustainable development framework that aims to end poverty by 2030, including through a new set of targets to advance women’s economic participation from reforming property ownership and inheritance laws to improving access to credit and beyond.

However, as implementation of the new global goals gets underway, we know that women’s economic participation remains elusive. And this is particularly true with respect to women’s entrepreneurship. Despite the evidence of the importance of women’s small and medium-size enterprises to economic growth, legal and other barriers to women entrepreneurs persist. And too often, programs focus on overcoming these obstacles and on training a new generation of female entrepreneurs are simply insufficient to meet the needs of the private sector.

For too long, the critical role that the private sector can play in promoting women’s entrepreneurship has been overlooked. This morning we will explore what multinational corporations can do to advance women’s economic participation and what the private sector stands to gain from investing in female entrepreneurs. We will consider how the private sector can advance efforts to promote the integration of women-owned businesses into supply chains, and we’ll examine innovative approaches that could help to unleash women’s economic potential across the globe.

No one is better equipped to guide our discussion this morning than our two speakers today, who are leading the charge in helping to answer these questions.

First we are delighted to be joined by Jane Nelson, the founding director of the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. From 1993 to 2009, Jane was a director and senior adviser at the International Business Leaders Forum, and she has also served as a senior associate for the Institute for Sustainable Leadership at Cambridge University.

In 2001, she worked with the United Nations Global Compact in the Office of the U.N. Secretary General, preparing a report for the General Assembly on cooperation between the U.N. and the private sector. She has co-authored five books and over 80 publications on corporate responsibility and development, and we are delighted to have her.

Welcome, Jane.

We are also thrilled to host Sarah Thorn, the senior director of Global Government Affairs at Walmart, where she manages international policy issues. Sarah directs a team that addresses global supply chain policies, including responsible sourcing and labor issues. In 2011, she led the strategic development of Walmart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, which is focused on empowering women throughout Walmart’s global supply chain. She is actively involved in the implementation of the initiative.

And before joining Walmart, she worked at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and at AMP, Incorporated. She began her career in Washington as a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Information Agency. And we are delighted to have her.

Welcome, Sarah.

So I will begin our discussion with a few questions for each of our speakers and then invite all of you to join the discussion.

Jane, I would like to start by asking you about the involvement of the private sector in advancing women’s economic progress. We know that governments have a critical role to play in helping to eliminate any of the obstacles that face women in the marketplace, but you have made the case that multinational corporations, that the private sector, should and can play a critical leadership role in advancing women’s economic participation. How can large companies advance women’s economic empowerment? And why is doing so in the interest of the private sector?

NELSON: Thanks very much, Rachel.

And good morning, everyone. It’s an honor to be here and to be part of, I think, this ongoing conversation that the Council on Foreign Relations and ExxonMobil are hosting on what we can do—I think sort of two questions—what we can do individually and through our own institutions, and also what we can do collectively and in partnership to support and promote women’s economic empowerment.

And in terms of the roles of sort of large corporations, I think there are three major leadership roles that any large corporation can and should play regardless of industry sector, or whether they are U.S.-based or U.K.-based or—I’m Zimbabwean, so whether they are Zimbabwean-based. And I would like to sort of highlight what these three roles are.

I think first, and by far and away the most important thing that any large corporation can do is be much more ambitious and explicit and strategic about engaging women as equal and crucial participants at every level of the company’s core business activities. And that’s the board of directors, it’s the senior executive team, it’s management teams, particularly women sort in management and operations, not just functional roles. And of course it is engaging them in the value chain and the supply chain as business partners, as entrepreneurs, suppliers, distributors, as well as customers and consumers.

And I think it’s sort of fair to say that we have made progress in the last 10 years in all of those levels, from sort of boards through to supply chains, but we still clearly have got a long way to go. There’s still very clearly a gender-equity pay gap. There is very definitely a gap in progression and promotion of women. And there is definitely a gap in sort of the power dynamics, I think, of women in most corporations still.

I think the good news is that the business case is largely made. And I actually don’t want to spend too much time on the business case because the great work of, you know, McKinsey, ExxonMobil, and numerous companies have, I think—you know, Credit Suisse—done very good, you know, work on the business case.

And what we need to now focus on is the sort of a roadmap or a blueprint for action. And I think there are sort of two examples I’d like to highlight in terms of engaging women very, very fundamentally in the core business operations of companies. And the first is exciting work that I am proud to be involved with—and Jewelle Bickford, who is also here, has been taking the lead on—which is it’s sort of a five-point roadmap, which we are calling Paradigm for Parity, which sets very a clear, practical set of actions that companies can take and CEOs can take to really embed women leaders at every level of a company.

And it’s things that most of you will be familiar with, but again sort of focusing increasingly not on what the problem is but what are some of the solutions? I mean, how can we minimize or eliminate unconscious bias, you know, in the workplace as well as with entrepreneurs? You know, how can we set and measure and report and require reporting on targets for women at different levels of the company? How can we, you know, take very specific actions to have more women brought into operational roles? How can we ensure that promotion and sort of results and success is based on performance and not actually on presence, and be much more flexible about how women engage, whether as entrepreneurs or as managers, in workplaces? And then, how can we do things like moving beyond traditional mentoring, where that’s still very important, to much more proactive sponsorship of women, both managers but also entrepreneurs?

So Jewelle and myself and a number of women have sort of—women leaders have developed this Paradigm for Parity. We’re hoping to get a hundred CEOs to sign up for it, working with the sort of 30% Club here in the U.K. with the other initiatives around the world to say, you know, these are the practical steps that companies can and should publicly sign up to, to engage more women in their core business activities.

I think in terms of engaging women entrepreneurs, and particularly when it comes to global supply chains in developing countries, again, we know what the challenge is but we are also increasingly clear on what the roadmap is. And our good colleague—Sarah’s and my good colleague Henriette Kolb on the IFC, the International Finance Corporation, sort of has got sort of a three-point framework that she calls the sort of three things that women entrepreneurs need, whether they are well-established women-owned businesses or small and micro entrepreneurs financed by Walmart or Coca-Cola in Africa.

First of all, they need capacity and confidence, secondly capital, and thirdly connections. And I think that’s a great way of thinking of it. You know, the capacity and confidence, you know, what can we do through training programs, whether they’re online, in person, through mentoring, through sponsorship programs of women entrepreneurs? In terms of capital, you know, the two critical types of capital needed are obviously access to finance—and I know we’ve got Women’s World Banking represented here today. You know, how do we improve the access to finance and financial literacy but also access to technology? That’s a crucial sort of capital and economic asset that women entrepreneurs can have to scale and improve their engagement with companies.

And then thirdly, sort of connections. How do we make sure women entrepreneurs are connected to networks? We all know how important networks are. So, you know, women’s business networks, broader entrepreneurship networks, networks of buyers and procurement people and companies, not just the corporate responsibility people.

So I think we’re increasingly clear, both in the workplace and in terms of engaging women entrepreneurs, on the steps we need to take. And I sort of feel the debate is done on that and it’s now how do we get CEOs, the male CEOs even more so that the female CEOs, to sign up to saying, you know, we’re going to take very specific actions and we’re going to set targets both within our own workplaces and our boards and our executive teams, as well as with the entrepreneurs in our supply chains and our value chains?

So that’s by far and away the most important thing, and regardless of industry sector, you know, that CEOs and companies can do to promote women’s economic empowerment, you know, engage them much more in the heart of the core business operations at all levels.

But then, very quickly, I think there are two other things companies can do. And the second is what I’d call sort of enabling women entrepreneurs and women leaders through corporate philanthropy, community investment, employee volunteering. It’s not going to be as large scale as, you know, bringing women into the heart of the core business, but companies can do great work in terms of improving financial literacy. I mean, banks should be doing more on improving financial literacy generally, but also financial literacy for women.

Technology companies—Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm—have got great programs on improving digital literacy for women through their foundations, you know, initiatives like the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative. That wasn’t part of their core business. It was sort of foundation-based but did a lot to sort of support women entrepreneurs. I think, you know, corporate philanthropy can also build institutions to support women. So there is a lot that can be through the corporate philanthropy piece.

And then third, and finally—and this is in some ways the most challenging but also extremely important—is advocate, publicly advocate for women entrepreneurs and women leaders. And how can companies do that?

And they can do it first through supporting research and data collection on women entrepreneurs. Secondly, you know, corporations, many of them, particularly consumer-facing corporations, have incredible communications platforms. They can promote women and profile women as role models. And then thirdly, in terms of public policy dialogue—you know, companies clearly have access to governments everywhere they operate, the big companies, and how do they, you know, advocate for more women-friendly public policies?

And I think on the research sort of side of things a great example—I think we have the U.N. Foundation here as a partnership between ExxonMobil and the U.N. Foundation, but sort of developed a roadmap for women’s economic empowerment but then linked that to what are the policy actions that need to be taken? So there is a good example of a company saying, well, you know, here is what’s needed but, you know, here are policy things that need to be done in countries around the world.

So I think those are the sort of three areas, and hopefully we can delve into them more. But, you know, first and foremost, they’re much more ambitious and sort of strategic about engaging women throughout the company and its core business activities, shifting from just a focus on protecting women and not discriminating in the workplace—although that continues to be a challenge in far too many places—to actually having women as part of corporate strategy and growth at the heart of the business; secondly, enabling women—you know, community leaders, entrepreneurs—through corporate philanthropy; and then thirdly, sort of advocating for women through corporate research, data collection, sort of communications platforms and policy dialogue.

And I would argue that whether it’s a mining company or a bank or a consumer goods company or a retail company, all three of those actions are possible and needed if we’re actually going to shift the needle from, you know, 20 (percent) to 30 percent, if we’re lucky, on boards and executive teams and within supply chains to 50 percent.

VOGELSTEIN: So you really made the case for a set of very clear, concrete practical steps that corporations can take to advance women’s economic participation and entrepreneurship in particular.

Sarah, I would like to turn to you to ask about your experience at Walmart, where the Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative is really a prominent example of exactly what Jane is talking about. You know, many of us know that when you launched the initiative almost five years ago, you set a goal of sourcing $20 billion from women-owned businesses for the United States and doubling sourcing in international markets by 2016.

Well, here we are, close to five years later. As you’ve pursued this goal, what has worked? Tell us about some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how implementing many of the practical steps that Jane talked about—what that is going to mean for Walmart going forward.

THORN: So, thank you so much. It’s really delightful to be here.

We were talking a little bit before, and the Council on Foreign Relations has been a partner to us from before we even launched the initiative. Isobel Coleman was an adviser. She came to our launch. And I was saying I think one of the things that she did that was so valuable is said directly to our CEO: Be more ambitious. You can do more. You’re the largest company in the world. You have a role to play. And I think that validation and knowing that we actually could make a huge difference—we’re a very large company. We are nearly a $500 billion company with 2.1 million people who work for us in 28 markets around the world.

And the other thing that—when we did this sort of scoping exercise—that many of our partners and many of you around the room said to us was: You know, what you need to do is leverage your strength. You buy a lot. You hire a lot of people. But you need to do that in a more thoughtful way and in a more inclusive way. And you need to be thinking about how you can incorporate women more deliberately—very much along the lines of what Jane was saying.

And I was very fortunate to be working for a man named Leslie Dock at the time, who was—he never saw a barrier he didn’t want to just run right over. And so he was really pushing us to be thoughtful and be ambitious, but also to be practical, to say, you shouldn’t—you should really know who you are as a corporation and play to your strength. And for us really, it was—we have a vast supply chain. We have enormous purchasing power. We hire a lot of people. So how do we craft a program that will leverage those strengths?

And that’s what we did. And that’s how we really focused on women’s economic empowerment. And we have been very true to sort of saying—because as you—we’ve moved into the women’s space, people say, well, you should do violence against women, you should do child-maternal health. And we have been saying, you know what, we’re going to try to play in this lane and do this really well. It’s hard. It’s not easy. And then as we learn and we have more credibility, we can see if there are other spaces we can play in. But I think that for a corporation it was actually a fundamental lesson that we had to really sort of own and say, nope, we’re going to be in this space.

When we looked at entrepreneurship, I think it’s important to start with the “why.” Why were we going to focus on sourcing more for women-owned businesses? Our theory was that women are a core customer. Women make up the majority of our associates. And if we have products and services designed by women, they will be more relevant to our women customers. We will have more competition and more diversity. And internationally we are in major mostly emerging markets. So if we can help the women entrepreneurs grow and flourish, we will have healthier ecosystems around the stores, and it’s what can contribute to development.

I’m happy to say that those theories, those hypotheses have actually borne out and are very true. We do find that the women-owned businesses in our supply chain are very resilient, they’re very innovative, and they’re bringing products and services that we wouldn’t have thought of that are very relevant to our customer base. And, more interesting, they’re performing better in terms of inventory and performance. And when we sign—when we find a way to communicate to our customers, this is made by a women-owned business, the women, our customers, will buy those products.

And so it is this virtuous cycle. That said, it’s not easy. One of the first things we did was—we’ve always had a supplier diversity program, but in some ways we really needed to think through—and we made this very ambitious goal. And I will say, having that number was a really important thing we did. I had 40-page stacks and I had to go to our executive committee and present this strategy. And they all zoomed in on the number because they’re all merchants, and they would say: Well, okay, what’s the number? What are we going after?

By doing a goal like 20 billion (dollars) over five years, I think what it created was innovation. We were not very deliberate about how we were going to get there. We didn’t really know, but we knew we should and we could get there.

The first thing we did was to look at our supply base and say—in the United States, and to say, okay, let’s do an analysis from both ways. What are these top suppliers and what are their challenges doing business with Walmart? And then let’s go back and talk to the buyers and let’s look at what we’re doing as a company and see if there are things that we’re doing that we could do better to make it easier for those women to succeed.

We found some really fascinating things. And this was for the U.S., where we actually knew who the women-owned businesses were. One of the things we found was the majority of our women-owned businesses were pretty small. So some of our buyers, who had been sourcing from these women-owned businesses for years, have never met them. They didn’t know who they were because they were talking to the big guys, to Proctor and Coke, and having joint business planning and doing their year planning, but they don’t have time to talk to these guys way down here.

So one of the things we did was we created a dashboard to create more visibility for those smaller suppliers to the buyers. So, hey, buyer X of jellybeans, here are your women-owned businesses. Here is high-performing women-owned businesses. You might want to meet with them and have some joint business planning life. You know what their capabilities are.

We also found that our on-boarding process was pretty slow and our buyers were just dealing with the fact that it could take up to six months to bring a new supplier on. That’s not tolerable, but in a way we were a business that, eh, we didn’t need that many more suppliers. We’ve got a lot of suppliers, you know? There’s only so much shelf space. So looking at that, unpacking it and saying: We can move that to two weeks. That doesn’t have to take six months. Let’s break down our own internal barriers for bringing these suppliers on. Let’s be more transparent as a company about how you become a supplier.

So if you go to our website now you can see——what requirements do you need, because honestly there are some businesses that really are not suited to be a Walmart supplier. It’s hard. We’re really big. You need liability insurance. You need a barcode. You need all of these requirements that, as a small business, you may not be able to have right away, but if you know what you need, it’s a target to go for.

And then we realized that actually to hit the goals, what we actually should do is focus on those women who were in our supply chain and grow the fast ones. So we invested in accelerator training. We leveraged our business and created a Women-Owned Business Advisory Committee with our high-performing women-owned businesses, our merchants, with leading NGOs like WeBank, to really unpack and tackle some of these barriers that we found.

Obviously, access to capital comes up everywhere. It’s a problem. So what can we do to accelerate payments to women-owned businesses? How can we create a supplier financing program so that there’s more working capital—is actually what these women needed, not startup capital?

You know, really, it sounds very kind of systemic, but that’s what you need. You actually have to have people wake up every day and say: OK, how do we do this? How do we break it down? How do we make it easier for the buyers? The buyers, they have 15 minutes to make a decision about a supplier. What’s the team doing to make sure we’re bringing the best suppliers in front of them? What are we doing to make sure we’re cultivating a pipeline of talent?

And one of the best things we did too was we hired not people like me, but we hired merchants to run the program. We took people who were P&L and we said, you are now in charge of sourcing for women-owned businesses. And it was a bit of a culture fit, you know, because they didn’t understand this world but they knew what an end cap was and they knew what margins were, and they were so surprised when I would say, what? (Laughs.) I don’t really know retail; I know this world.

I think that was really important to have that opportunity for those merchants, first of all, to come in and learn about the program but also to take their expertise and their relationships with the business, speak the business language so that they could actually work with their peers to promote—that’s the U.S.

I will say we are 82 percent of the way towards our goal. We anticipate we’ll hit our goal. We have sourced $16.4 billion for women-owned businesses for the U.S. markets and we’ll make it probably sometime later this—sort of into the 2016 year. So that’s very exciting. Internationally it’s been a lot harder. We kind of had this goal of doubling our sourcing because we knew—going into it we didn’t even know who our women-owned businesses were in our supply chain. We never asked the question. There weren’t good systems for tracking.

And I will say it’s still hard. We’ll make the doubling in some of our markets, and other markets we’re still trying to get a baseline. It’s just been that much harder, mostly because, you know, there wasn’t a huge incentive for women-owned businesses to flag up and say, I’m a women-owned business, in our international markets.

Some of the businesses we saw when we actually went and had to do Walmart with our wonderful systems—we actually ended up having to do sort of an external survey of our suppliers and our supply database to say, can you flag up and tell me if you’re a women-owned business? And you saw these titles like “JBC Corp” because it just wasn’t in—why? Why? It’s not helping me to be a women-owned business. There’s no incentive for this. In fact, it’s a detriment.

So figuring out who the women were, step one, then figuring out how to individualize and tailor their needs. A women-owned business in Japan has very different cultural barriers, very different challenges than a women-owned business in Mexico—some similarities in terms of generally small, generally don’t have the networks, generally don’t have the capacity, but different. You know, in Japan we ended up using our philanthropy to fund childcare because that was the issue. There’s no—how am I going to run a business if nobody is taking care of my children?

In Mexico we found a really interesting cohort of women entrepreneurs but generally small and not with a lot of capacity, so funding programs like Endeavor, funding basic business skills to help. But then also, leaning into our business, we have a program called Adopta una PyME in Mexico, which is a buyer program where the buyers will work directly with small businesses to sort of impart the knowledge in their head and sort of like a mentorship program. That’s a low-cost way of helping in creating suppliers.

So, you know, I will say this has been a journey. We’re so fortunate to have so many people who have been committed. They’ve committed their time and their thought, are partners to help us do this because we haven’t been able to do this alone. We’ve really leaned on very important NGOs: WeBank, WEConnect, CARE, BSR. I can’t name them all. I don’t want to choose among my children.

But we really have had to partner to break down these barriers to create opportunity. And we’ve also had to fail a lot and learn from our mistakes. And we’ve been pretty public about things we’ve done wrong and not understanding, and I’m happy to talk about some of those learnings as well.

VOGELSTEIN: I wonder if I could follow up on your point about some of the challenges and reflect on some studies that experts have offered, evaluating efforts to promote female entrepreneurship training around the world, finding that many of these programs that are often supported by donor governments or by international NGOs are actually insufficient to meet the needs of the private sector.

So a question for both of you, and then we’ll open up the discussion to the group: Is women’s entrepreneurship training structured in a way that is responsive to private sector demand, in your view? And if not, what is it that governments can do, the U.S. government in particular, but others, as well as donors, civil society—what can they do to better ensure that female entrepreneurs, particularly in the developing world, have the skills and assets that they need to attract investment from major corporations?

Sarah, why don’t you start and then we’ll turn to Jane.

THORN: So I would say they short answer is no, it’s not sufficient. I was really surprised when we kind of embarked on this—we have an MOU with USAID; we would work with a lot of multilateral organizations—that there weren’t any best practices out there. There really wasn’t even a lot of money going to women’s entrepreneurship five years ago. There was a lot of money going to child maternal health, literacy, all super important but not really focusing on women as economic agents.

And therefore, you know, my—our best programming in some ways with development communities is really a plug and play for farmers. We’re the off-taker. We can tell you what we need, where we need, how we need it, what standards. So when you’re developing a program, wherever you are in the world, incorporating small farmers into value chains, we can be the end off-taker and we can transfer our knowledge. I was looking for those kind of programs and they really haven’t existed until sort of starting now. But what we’ve had to do is pilot a lot: Let’s try this. Let’s try e-learning. Let’s try mentoring. Let’s try this.

And what I haven’t seen yet and where I think we need to go is really the systems approach, because it’s not one intervention. It’s not just access to finance. It’s not just networks. It’s all of it. Our successful women entrepreneurs, when we actually back them out in developing countries, have had multiple interventions, multiple interventions from lots of different people, multiple training, and actually hands-on training.

That’s another thing we learned, which is we—you know, we’ve done a lot of programming with WEConnect International to create modules on how do you become a supplier, what do you do—a lot of e-learnings—but, yes, some of them will do an e-learning. Honestly, they want you right there next to them, helping them, really much more hands-on proactive.

And so I would say I’ve noticed in five years there’s a lot more focus. There’s a lot more thought going into this. There’s good work happening in APEC—dashboards and governments really engaged in thinking about this. Governments can do more.

One easy thing governments could do is buy more from women-owned businesses themselves. The reason I know who my women-owned businesses are in the United States is because the SBA and the U.S. government has a target for sourcing from women-owned businesses. And in order to know whether you were or weren’t a women-owned business, the certification programs came out.

And then the companies can adopt the certification programs to say, now I know exactly how many women-owned businesses are in my supply chain for my diversity reporting.

Governments can absolutely use their procurement power to source more from women-owned businesses. And I actually think if you had that kind of pull, then you see the barriers more clearly. One of the best things we did was say we want to source more, because then I know—I went to Central America. We do great programs where we do—bring in the women entrepreneurs and do speed-dating with our buyers. It’s really much easier to see when you sit down with a buyer, with an entrepreneur actually it’s your packaging—your packaging, your price points, your distribution. You know, it’s much easier to unpack the barriers when you’re actually in a real-life situation than thinking about it and funding an NGO program or funding a project. It really needs a lot of hands-on, practical learning.

VOGELSTEIN: Jane, can you share your perspective?

NELSON: Absolutely.

VOGELSTEIN: What more can governments and others do to improve entrepreneurship?

THORN: Absolutely. And I think building on Sarah’s comments is—you know, the critical factor is looking at women as economic actors and really seeing them and supporting them as economic actors much more explicitly. And I think, you know, individual companies are doing a lot of things. You know, Dell has a women’s entrepreneurship network. Almost every major company that’s made a public commitment to supporting more woman entrepreneurs in their global supply chains have good programs.

But even the largest companies in the world are not going to be able to reach, you know, the millions of, you know, woman small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs, who have potential but just aren’t getting there because they aren’t getting that combination. And I think Sarah’s point of a systems approach of, you know, capacity-building; you know, confidence-building; capital, technology, and connections to—if not guaranteed markets—sort of surer markets.

So I think, you know, one of the key things that companies can do is just as Sarah explained, actually sort of make a commitment, well, we’re going to source from, you know, X amount of woman entrepreneurs in, you know, these countries in Africa or in Asia, so sort of setting the targets for themselves and, you know, providing that market as well as providing sort of what the needs are and getting their buyers and their procurement teams, not just the corporate responsibility teams, actively engaged.

But I think the very important role that governments and donors can play is sort of twofold. One is building institutions to support woman entrepreneurs. And you know, we talk about the SBA. You know, there’s also, you know, the women’s entrepreneurship national council here in the United States. You know, we need, you know, things like, you know, the Bangladesh woman entrepreneurs council or the Bangladesh chamber of commerce for women. And there actually is one now and an amazing woman running it. And the impact that having that sort of institutional structure and leadership at the country level and very explicitly supporting woman entrepreneurs and then being able to pull together, you know, technology companies providing technology and digital literacy support and banks providing financial literacy support and off-takers offering, you know, to actually buy from the women.

But you sort of need that sort of intermediary role. And it’s sort of an institutional role, which isn’t very sexy. And yet building those institutions at the country level, I think, is extremely important.

I mean, another type of institution that companies and donors can work together on building are sort of entrepreneurship centers where, you know, women can come and be matched with, you know, local buyers as well as multinational companies. And I’ve had the privilege of being in Papua New Guinea, which has, you know, one of the, you know, worst sort of, you know, sets of gender inequality and violence against women in the world. And even in a really difficult place like that, Exxon Mobil—in fact, our host today—worked with the Coca-Cola Company and national banks in Papua New Guinea to set up an enterprise development center, which wasn’t just focused on women, but had a very explicit goal to proactively identify and support woman entrepreneurs in the country.

And you know, you can literally see the needle moving on the number of woman entrepreneurs, who—getting that sort of set of capital, capacity-building, access to companies that they need through the sort of intermediary roles.

So I think that’s—you know, building the institutional structure at the country level is one key thing that the U.S. government and other donors and NGOs can play. And then, you know, linked to that, sort of things like WEConnect, Women’s World Banking, CARE International—you know, building the capacity of U.S.-based NGOs that are operating internationally is key as well.

And then finally, I think the key role that the U.S. government and others can play—and it goes back to Sarah’s point about government as, you know, procuring from women—is actually encouraging governments, you know, particularly in developing countries, not only to have more sort of, you know, women-friendly policies for women as economic actors but also to procure from women.

And I think, you know, the influence that the donors governments have on their partner governments in the developing world is massive. And I think we saw that with, you know, Secretary Clinton when she was secretary of state and Ambassador Melanne Verveer as the first ambassador-at-large for women, just, you know, every single visit they made, everywhere they went in the world, there was a conversation with the president or the prime minister and—but also often the finance minister about, you know, not just women’s rights and protecting women and, you know, respecting women and women’s political voice but also women as economic actors.

And so that, you know, combination of institution-building and policy dialogue and role-modeling, I think, is key and has demonstrated that it can have an—(off mic).

VOGELSTEIN: A real agenda for action for the U.S. government and other donors. But I’d like to open the discussion to all of you. Please state your name and affiliation if you have a question, and we’ll get to as many as we can.


Q: Sorry—question mainly for Jane. Would it be helpful if we were to create in this country, let’s say, a rating system for companies based on how well and actively they’re incorporating women based on some of the metrics that Sarah talked about and something that could be transparent and would be a help toward what you’re talking about, which is you have the steps outlined, but then how do you get them to do it? If there was a public praise-and-shaming mechanism, would that help you?

VOGELSTEIN: Naming-and-shaming.

NELSON: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s beginning to happen, and I think it absolutely works, because you’re right. All the policies and grand ambition on paper don’t work, you know, unless there are very clear incentives. And I think the internal incentives—you know, that strong CEO leadership and partnership between different functions—but that external pressure to report and perform definitely plays a role.

And we’ve certainly seen that with women on boards. So, you know, the disclosure requirements in quite a lot of European countries—you know, some have quotas, but even more important, I think, than quotas are disclosure requirements that, you know, you actually have to disclose. And if you have to disclose the figures, you know, throughout the company, not just the board but management and also, you know, suppliers, you know, that certainly focuses the attention.

I think we’re also beginning to see some very interesting moves in the investor community around this and that as sort of environmental and social issues have become more material generally to investors—and you have, you know, people like Larry Fink from BlackRock sending a letter saying, you know, we’re measuring the quality of a company’s performance on its environment and social—including its diversity and inclusion, not just of women but, you know, other groups. You know, that’s beginning to focus attention.

And Bloomberg now does have a women’s index, which, I mean, I think they’ve just, you know, announced—and Sarah, you could probably help me here—I think announced the first results of that a few months ago. So, you know, when you’ve got sort of the Bloombergs and the BlackRocks of this world standing up and saying this matters and is part of a broader integration of sort of nonfinancial drivers into business performance, we will—we will definitely start to move the agenda.

I mean, the—and the shaming part—I mean, you know, ranking—if you’re at the bottom of the list, then, you know, there’s an element of that—you know, I think, you know, is also a very important role, frankly, for, you know, investigative journalism and the media to play on, you know, some of the problems in global supply chains, so both, you know, praising and ranking the leaders.

I mean, the challenge there—and Sarah and I were chatting about this earlier—for the big global companies, you know, every company that’s honest about this says we absolutely know—you know, we’ve got forced labor, you know, human trafficking, you know, problems—somewhere down our multi-, multi-tiered, you know, hundreds of thousands of, you know, suppliers that, you know, we don’t know about. And—but you know, so it’s, you know, I think very difficult for the companies who are working so hard to try and get it right that there’s a—you know, a problem in, you know, a factory in Thailand, for example, but then splash across, you know, the front-page news.

But I think that—you know, that awareness that, you know, with particularly social media these days, if, you know, one isn’t implementing on the ground and there is, you know, bad practices happening, that that risk of exposure is higher than it’s ever been.

And so I think that combination of, you know, race to the top and ranking the leaders and the, you know, investor community and consumers—I think Sarah’s point about getting consumers more aware about products that are produced by women entrepreneurs is sort of a race-to-the-top strategy but then, you know, also continuing to expose problems in global supply chains that are gender-related.

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you.

We come over here. Yes, please.

Q: Michaela Walsh.

First of all, I just want to thank you for this meeting. Many years at the Council, I’ve never been to a meeting with this many women present wanting to know about innovation. Congratulations. (Applause.) And I’m—you know, I think that all of us ought to think about how to be more innovative in terms of organizing our own power base going forward.

But my question to you all is—I’m impressed to learn what is beginning to happen within the corporations and in—and in the business schools. My curiosity is that there’s this desire to be innovative in the corporate world and in the schools. But to what degree do you believe that we are going to grow in enough flexibility and enough understanding about a bottom-up economy to be able to really be effective and have an impact at that level of an emerging economy?

NELSON: Before you answer, I just have to say, Michaela—(off mic)—

Q: Exactly. Thank you.

NELSON: (Off mic.) (Applause.)

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you for adding that. Appreciate it.


THORN: You know, I feel like when we started this journey, there were a few of us kind of who—I mean, really almost a handful of us who were kind of meeting—you know, I think of the Vital Voices and Women’s World Banking and—who got it. And our mission was to try to explain to people why it mattered and why it was in our own self-interest to do this and why we should be empowering women.

I’m really encouraged—and I think the secretary and Melanne have so much to do with this—but I’m very encouraged that we don’t have to have that conversation anymore, that I think it is understood now that to be a successful company, you cannot leave half of your talent base out. You just can’t. So that I’m encouraged by.

I’m also encouraged that large institutions are paying attention. So the World Bank is looking at gender gaps, the World Economic Forum, the IDB, the—you know, I go a lot of places, and we talk about this. You know, one of my—my day job is to work in government relations. And I was given the privilege to sort of learn the space and try to do something with a very big company behind me.

But it’s an advantage to sit where I am, because I get to move the women’s movement into government relations. So we’ve been pushing for it to have—you know, to take the momentum and have the women’s issues on the agenda at the Summit of the Americas. And I’ll put my CEO up, and they’ll talk. And guess what. They’re really wildly attended and at APAC and at these other fora. And I think that was also a super-strength of the secretary and Melanne, which was to say, we can’t just put women’s issues over here; we’ve got to make them very much integrated.

So I feel like we’re at the tipping point of the movement. Is there tremendous work to be done, and can you get kind of discouraged? Yeah. But one of our points now is to put those proof points out there and say, this is working, we’re doing better because of this, our employees are more engaged, our supply base is more resilient. We—women-owned businesses are not only becoming into our supply chain and being successful. Guess what they do. They hire more women. They train more women. They pass it on.

And so I think the more of us that we pull into this movement—I actually—I feel like we’re in a good place about this, that there’s a ton more to do but we’re—working collectively we can do a lot to make it happen.

NELSON: I think—just very briefly to add to that, but first to thank you so much, Michaela, for all your incredible leadership because I started life as a—as a banker with Citi, and I think you and your colleagues at Women’s World Banking have really demonstrated both the—you know, the power of individual leadership but then the power of networks and building sort of networks—in your case of sort of financial institutions—at, you know, all levels and all countries is so incredibly important.

And I think—you know, I agree with Sarah, and I want to focus more on the—on the business school and just the education side of things, because I think there’s the very important role that large companies and individuals can play generally in, you know, getting the women’s agenda onto all agendas—and I think that’s absolutely—you know, we need to move away from just the women-only conferences and agendas, where, you know, sort of women’s equity and empowerment is seen in, you know, all the World Bank meetings and, you know, finance meetings at the country level or, you know, meetings about agriculture or meetings about manufacturing, that—you know, that there’s a panel on women as economic actors.

So I think there’s this—absolutely that piece about—at the universities, we’re making progress, but I think—and you know, I can only speak for mine, but I think generally we still have a real problem—just like we have in companies the problem that we’ve got more women on boards now but the executive leadership teams are still massively predominantly male and we don’t have enough women that are executive leaders, we don’t have enough women faculty. And you know, a lot of the obstacles for women becoming CEOs in companies are similar obstacles, you know, to women becoming, you know, senior faculty and tenured faculty, you know, because of, you know, the, you know, diverse commitments they have.

So I think something that donors can do, both corporate donors but also high-net-worth individuals that are donating back to their alumni, is, you know, to be the challenging person that Isobel was to Wal-Mart, to actually to say to the university, you’ve got to be more ambitious. You know, it’s great now that we have, you know, over half of our students at the law school and the business school and the school of public health and my school, the School of Public Policy, a woman, but hey, what about the faculty? What are we doing on faculty?

So I think there’s a—there’s a lot that can be done, you know, to get more role-modeling in universities. And I did notice at graduation for us this year—this is a tiny, subtle little thing—but that almost every dean that got up spoke about the women and men who are graduating today. And that, you know, seems like a silly anecdote on the one hand, but on the other hand it’s, you know, getting that conversation going that we’re, you know, equal partners at the table and starting at—you know, in education indeed below the university level, I think, is going to be critical.

So any companies or high-net-worth donors that are—that are donating to schools, let alone sort of universities, you know, calling on greater gender equity there, I think, are going to be—going to be key.

I mean, and then I’d also just—before I finish, I’d also like to highlight for people on the public policy side, Women’s World Banking have actually just produced a very interesting report—I think one of the most interesting I’ve seen—of policy good practices for financial inclusion of women and a, you know, sort of great example of what, you know, policymakers can do to improve financial inclusion and the financial infrastructure.

VOGELSTEIN: So with gratitude for the leaders who have catalyzed so much of this work, it sounds like cause for optimism but still a lot of work ahead.

Why don’t we come over here.

Q: Hi. My name is Kimball Chen.

My question—it relates to the two comments that both Jane and Sarah made about a need for institutions and a need for a equasystem (ph) approach. My responsibility that interacts with women is the U.N. asked me to deal with sustainable energy for all—their major priority right now is getting cooking energy out there, all right. So I—what I do complements what the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves do. They do stoves. I create fuel and fuel logistics. I try to create end-user distribution, which is something that Sarah gets interested in.

My assignment from the U.N. is to create a billion peoples more access to bottled gas in the next 10 years. So I have a large homework assignment. I notice that institutions and capacity-building and cultures lack two things. First of all, the equasystem (ph) approach of issues—it’s not just vertical ministries. It’s connections across things.

How do you get the women’s point of view represented adequately in policy tradeoffs made by mainly male discussion? For instance, health—cooking kills 4.3 million people a year. It’s the biggest killer in the developing world. It’s a health issue, and health has economic value. This is not recognized by ministries of health, it’s not priced by ministries of finance, and it’s not reflected in the inter-ministerial debate in countries.

The institutions can’t handle it. The donor side on the outside world, we, are not effective at helping them build this institutional even-mindedness and capacity faster. I see this all the time. And most donors have a single issue. They don’t understand the issue of equasystems (ph). So what do we do about this? That’s my question.

VOGELSTEIN: Professor. Professor Nelson. Professor.

NELSON: Thanks. Thank you. It’s tough, and I—you know, you hit the nail on the head. I mean, I am cautiously optimistic that the sustainable development goals, you know, will start to get us in that way and on the one hand, although there are 17 different goals, you know, there’s more and more discussions on, you know, the SDG 5 on women’s empowerment—yes, but then women’s—you know, particular the economics of women’s empowerment are relevant, or the energy SDG, the health SDG, the poverty—you know, so, you know, that conversation, you know, I think will at least sort of help a little bit with the framing that we haven’t had before.

You know, I wish I could give a better answer than this, but I think, you know, just this ongoing effort—I mean, hopefully, you know, maybe having a women secretary general as the next secretary general of the U.N. will help. But having—you know, having, you know, all the heads of the U.N. agencies and again, you know, sort of heads of, you know, donor governments bringing this conversation up and make clear that, you know, sort of gender mainstreaming is as core to, you know, aid to developing countries and, you know, of demanding to have a meeting with the finance minister, I think the—you know, finance ministers are often the critical component and the most influential as well as the president and the prime minister’s office.

And so, yes, it doesn’t help if you just meet with the minister of health or the minister of women’s issues, if there is such a minister, or the—you know, the minister of education. But so bringing this conversation to the finance ministers and the presidents and the prime ministers in a very consistent, coherent way is, you know, one of the best ways to go about it, I think.

And then I think from a company perspective, I am seeing—and the fact that the U.N. has got a meeting while we’re speaking with the U.N. Global Compact, and a big energy company spoke there yesterday and a water company. And they both said—you know, the water guy said, you know, our core capacity is water and capabilities, but he spoke about the fact that, you know, water has a key role to play in women’s economic empowerment, and likewise, the—you know, the energy CEO.

So even if you’re focusing on something that isn’t explicitly about women’s empowerment, showing how it relates to women’s empowerment, you know, I think, is a—is another way to go. But you know, I think we’re a long way off even thinking systemically, let alone being able to act systemically. But—you know, so bringing this into the mainstream.

And then I think donors also—you know, calling on their partner governments to have more joined-up coordination, but then, you know, we probably need more joined-up public policy in this country as well, as we know, in the U.K. So—but, you know, just putting it on the agenda again and again and again, I think, is one of the ways to go. But—and I think the fact that we’re now thinking about systems solutions and not just vertical-point solutions is at least a step in the right direction.

VOGELSTEIN: Important point about focusing also internally on how the U.S. government conducts its business and modeling what we could do differently to integrate—

NELSON: And putting an economic price on things. You know, it’s always a bit of a danger. Like on health, you know, you don’t want to put an economic price on the dignity and sanctity of life and yet, you know, saying that, you know, there are economic repercussions for almost all the social decisions we make.


Q: Jane mentioned—can you hear me now?


Q: The paradigm for parity movement that she and I were involved in. And with the CEOs that we’re approaching, the male CEOs, with this five-point action plan, there are two things that appeal to them and why we’re getting their signatures. And it really goes back to what Sarah said. Number one, the women who went to Tuscany last summer and had our reunion last week were all senior CEOs and senior executives.

So the plan they came up with was because they talked to each other. And we go in and we say, this is what women feel will unlock the talent in your corporation.

And the second thing, which is even more important than the first—although they will tell you the first is important—but what I feel they think is important are all these studies that Credit Suisse, McKinsey came out with that say that the global GDP will be increased if women can go to work, if they’re included, if they can climb the ladder—in the compromise case, it’s 12 trillion (dollars). In the case without a compromise by different regions, bringing them to the standard of the regions, it’s 28 trillion (dollars).

Now, that’s just huge. And that appeals to the CEOs to think—and the Credit Suisse report that talked about companies that have more women—three women on the board or a female CEO and one woman on the board have a 10-percent increase in profits versus 7 (percent) for those who do not.

Those are the kind of things that appeal to these CEOs, because they’re under pressure for the profits. So it’s the combination of, as Sarah said, talking to your people in your organization and then having something to give them a plan to implement.

VOGELSTEIN: What can we do to incentivize more of the attention that Jewelle talked about?

NELSON: Well, I think, you know, both what paradigm for parity is doing but also the HeForShe campaign at the United Nations is, you know, getting more and more male champions. And it’s great to see some men sitting around the table here as well. So I think the more we have, you know, the male CEOs, the male finance ministers, et cetera, standing up and saying this is important, as well as just, you know, those sort of external rankings, those are the types of things that I think will incentivize both, you know, within companies but more broadly.

I don’t know, Sarah, if you want to—yeah.

THORN: Yeah, I think—I think it goes back to the point, Jane, that you were making earlier, that you just can’t be a company sort of in a silo anymore. You can’t just do your business and go away. We are now perceived, I think, companies as social entities as well as corporations. It’s—there’s no—there’s no—the dividing line has sort of passed. And I think it’s because the operations of corporations have such an impact on so many lives.

And so I would say from our perspective—and our CEO would say this as well—we have a responsibility—and it sounds trite, but—to do well as a company. That’s important for our shareholders and for our company and for our associates, but to do good. And I think what we try to find at Wal-Mart are what are the ways we can leverage the assets we have—our scale and our ability and our supply chain—to really maximize that? So whether it’s environmental sustainability, whether it’s women’s empowerment, that’s really—you know, that’s a mindset that I think—it starts at the top, and it goes all the way down.

But it’s because also, you know, our shareholders, the media—people are looking at us, and they’re watching us, and they want—I do think, especially with the rise of millennials, the rise of social media, there are expectations on companies like never before.

You know, we’re one of the companies that for our executives, for 70,000 managers, we have diversity inclusion as a—as a performance metric and tied to pay. So 10 percent of your compensation is tied to your diversity-inclusion metrics. I think that’s an important factor, and I think it’s something that—it creates an expectation. And you know, you have people checking on you. Did you do your—are you mentoring? Am I mentoring three people? That’s important. Am I attending and participating in events? Am I promoting events? And that—you know, people pay attention when your evaluation is coming up.

VOGELSTEIN: Well, it is clear that while we’ve seen important progress, that a lot of work remains to promote women’s economic participation. But there’s no doubt that the conversation today enlightened all of us for the path forward.

So please join me in a round of applause for our speakers. (Applause.) Thank you all.

NELSON: Thank you.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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