From small and medium enterprises to booming giants: the Business 20 forum brings international businesses, organisations and NGOs together for the purpose of sharing perspectives and experiences on finance, trade, healthcare and digitalisation. Polis180 asked a representative of the B20 about the opportunities and challenges of making our economy more gender-inclusive.
An Interview with Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner and Lea Spörcke
Even though it is no secret that women’s economic empowerment is fundamental for the world economy to grow, women are still severely underrepresented in global businesses. In reality, women from all over the world face numerous challenges, be it limited access to education, labour, finance and funding opportunities or the benefits of digitalisation. Gender diversity in corporate leadership roles continues to be a key issue in the discussion about the future of women owned businesses. But in order to scale up female entrepreneurship, vertical and horizontal gender segregation should be tackled on every level, from local to global. That is why the B20 as an official G20 dialogue forum for international businesses supports the need for a more gender-inclusive business environment.
Right after the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Polis member Lea Spörcke had the chance to speak to B20 Sherpa Stormy-Annika Mildner about the Business 20 process and its impact on female entrepreneurs and women’s economic empowerment.
Dear Mrs. Mildner, what are the objectives of the B20 and who takes part in the B20 process?
Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner: The B20 represents the G20 business community. It is organised in five task forces on Trade and Investment; Energy, Climate and Resource Efficiency; Employment and Education; Financing Growth and Infrastructure; and Digitalisation, two cross-thematic groups on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Responsible Business Conduct and Anti-corruption as well as the Health Initiative. Members in these groups are companies, business associations, international organisations and also civil society representatives. Overall, we have more than 700 members from all G20 countries. The companies we represent come from all sectors of the economy; and they are of all sizes – big and small ones. The motto of B20 captures what our objective is: resilience, responsibility, responsiveness – towards a future-oriented, sustainable world economy. Our goal is to work towards a world economy with clear and predictable rules which allow for fair competition, which foster innovation, which increase inclusiveness and prosperity. In other words: an economy, which is future-oriented and sustainable. As a consequence, we call, for example, for open and inclusive trade, the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, investment in infrastructure (for example for transportation, digital and energy) and more efforts in education and training. This would also be beneficial to female entrepreneurs.
How important is women’s economic empowerment to realise the B20 motto?
Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner: Robust and sustainable economic growth and development are not possible without diversity and inclusion. However, women are not always sufficiently included. The potential of women to contribute to innovation, creativity, productivity is thus not fully realised. Female entrepreneurs face many challenges, both financial and non-financial. Let’s take, for example, a look at small and medium-sized enterprises. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), there are roughly 9.3 million women-owned SMEs in a total of more than 140 countries. This is approximately one third of all formal SMEs. The start-up rate of female-run businesses is much lower than that of male-run businesses, although empirical evidence shows that businesses with greater gender diversity get better results. The G20 members should thus step up their efforts to support not only SMEs but also female entrepreneurship, paying particular attention to access to financing and digitisation.
Which are in your eyes the biggest obstacles to women’s economic empowerment in the G20?
Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner: Restricted access to finance has long been a problem for all SMEs. But the finance gap is particularly large for women-owned SMEs. Women face a multitude of hurdles. For example, financial institutions often perceive women as riskier and as entailing higher costs. A lot of times they do not have collateral. Quite often women tend to be less well educated in the areas of finance and business. This has to change. The G20 High Level Principles for Digital Financial Inclusion are a good basis for this. We would like the G20 to fully and quickly implement the Principles. More support is needed to build financial literacy, skills and capabilities. We would like to see G20 members to boost SMEs’ awareness of and ability to engage in digital finance, including electronic invoicing and settlement, digital trade, and supply chain financing. Another area where more needs to be done is digital inclusiveness. Digitisation opens up great opportunities. But we also face huge structural changes. Again, there is a considerable gender gap. We appreciate that the G20 members committed to bridge this gap in the Hamburg Leader’s Declaration. Overall, we are quite pleased how much attention the leaders paid to the issue of female inclusiveness in their declaration. The Women 20 (W20), another one of the G20 engagement groups, played a huge role in achieving this result. And I am honored that B20 and W20 issued a joint statement on female entrepreneurship before the Hamburg Summit. I am confident that the upcoming Argentinian B20 Presidency will also pay close regard to Women’s Economic Empowerment.
Dr. Stormy-Annika Mildner (M.Sc.) is the head of the department “Foreign Economic Policy” at the Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI), Federation of German Industries. She is currently the B20 Sherpa, responsible for the B20 engagement process of the German G20. As adjunct lecturer at the Hertie School of Governance she teaches classes in international economics.
The project “Women’s Economic Empowerment and the G20” is part of Polis180’s program area Women and International Politics. The project features an interview series on the Polis Blog as well as a public event foreseen for autumn 2017.
The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: Christian Kruppa.