Remarks at Women's Business Enterprise National Council Awards Ceremony

Robert D. Hormats
Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs 
Washington, DC
March 25, 2010

As prepared for delivery

Good morning. I’m delighted to join Ambassador Melanne Verveer in welcoming all of you to the State Department. And I’m also pleased to have Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) President Linda Denny here to present these awards. Now, I understand this is the first time we’ve held this award ceremony at the State Department. But I hope it’s a tradition we can continue.

WBENC’s leadership in promoting women-owned business has helped achieve important economic and foreign policy goals. Because of your efforts, thousands more women are inspired to start enterprises, establish supportive networks, and secure new contracting opportunities in the supply chains of our country’s most successful businesses.

Empowering women in the marketplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good business. And today’s award winners understand that. Before us are 20 companies that have provided global leadership in supporting the growth and development of women’s businesses at home and across the globe. And our nation is stronger because of it. Promoting gender equity in business leads to greater prosperity. Investing in women and achieving equity in everything from education, to employment, to entrepreneurship creates a multiplier effect on a nation’s GDP. We know that when women thrive, our families, communities, and country thrive as well.

But we also recognize that the proverb “women hold up half the sky” has long been more aspiration than fact. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earned a median weekly salary in 2008 that was about 80 percent of the pay for men. That’s why initiatives like WBENC and WEConnect are so important. We have to address the gender gaps that persist across all areas life: social, political, as well as economic.

In this highly competitive world, the U.S needs to utilize all of its talent. When even one person is denied opportunity to contribute to the success of our economy, because of her sex, or race, or any other factor, we all suffer and our nation’s economic potential is diminished.

As Melanne has said, the major challenges of our time can’t be solved without the participation of women at all levels of society. So all of us at the State Department are working day-in and day-out to promote gender diversity and gender equity in our initiatives and our programs around the world.

One of my particular passions is the struggle for gender equality in education in developing nations. Having spent a nearly a year in a rural village in Tanzania, I knew firsthand of the transformative role of women’s education. According to a Goldman Sachs economic research report “educating girls and women leads to higher wages, a greater likelihood of working outside the home, lower fertility, reduced maternal and child mortality, and better health and education. The impact is felt not only in women’s lifetimes, but also in the health, education, and productivity of future generations.”

We also know that “at the macroeconomic level, female education is a key source of support for long-term economic growth. It has been linked to higher productivity, higher returns to investment; higher agricultural yields, and a more favorable demographic structure. The economic growth that results from higher education feeds a virtuous cycle, supporting continued investments in education and extending the gains to human capital and productivity.” In support of the efforts of the Office of Global Women’s Issues, my office is helping to advocate for many of your business around the world. This will pave the way for more women-owned enterprises to access new markets and collaborate with other companies internationally.

Two weeks ago, President Obama announced the National Export Initiative which will play a critical role in expanding the reach of American goods and services overseas. The Department of State, along with Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, and other federal agencies will marshal the government’s resources to help double U.S. exports over the next 5 years.

This is a whole-of-government effort to support your growth globally in a number of ways. Specifically, we are:

  • working to remove export barriers;
  • offering extended financing from the Export Import Bank;
  • promoting American business interests overseas through meetings with key ambassadors; and
  • making it easier for you to diversify your supplier base with certified women-owned enterprises.

You have already demonstrated how an investment in gender equity can pay off. And we want to build on your efforts and expertise. That’s why we are strengthening our cooperation with WEConnect International, WBENC’s international affiliate:

  • In April, the State Department will collaborate on the next meeting in London on Women's Business Enterprises in the Global Value Chain.
  • And in June, we will also co-host a reception for international delegates of the WBENC annual conference and trade fair in Baltimore.

As you seek to expand supplier diversity abroad, just as you have at home, we will work with WEConnect to provide access to certified women enterprises in other nations. Through these and other initiatives, we can advance the role of women in business so that all of us may share in a more prosperous world.

In conclusion, I want to again commend WBENC for its tremendous efforts over the years, and I congratulate those being honored today. We at the State Department look forward to continuing our work with you. And we thank you for setting an example of businesses that can “do well” and “do good.”