Inaugural Meeting of the International Council on Women's Business Leadership

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 24, 2012

Well, good morning everyone. And let me again welcome you here to the State Department, to the Ben Franklin Room, for this first meeting of the International Council on Women’s Business Leadership. This is a truly remarkable group, and I want to thank each and every one of you for taking time out of your very busy schedules to travel here to share your experiences and your insights as to what more we can do to promote women in the ranks of business and provide more opportunities for them to participate.

I want, particularly, to thank our vice chair, Cherie Booth Blair. We’ve worked together on so many challenges over the years. Her foundation supports women entrepreneurs around the world, and I’ve had an opportunity to collaborate with her and the foundation on the mWomen initiative to close the global gender gap that prevents hundreds of millions of women from gaining access to mobile technology. We all know that when women have the tools to participate in the formal economy, when they have access to information and opportunity, they can be full participants.

Our other vice chair, Indra Nooyi, unfortunately could not be here. Something came up which prevented her from attending. But her leadership at PepsiCo is a model for entrepreneurs and executives around the world, and she has been closely involved in helping to organize this meeting, and I think she twisted a few arms of some of you to participate as well.

Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s special advisor, also asked that we send her regrets. The President’s delivering his State of the Union this evening, and she was not able to break free from that, something I totally understand from my prior life. And I think that we’re very fortunate to have such a good turnout today.

I only want to say a few words, because really, the point of bringing such distinguished, successful women here around this table is to hear from you and to get very specific ideas about what you think can help us boost growth, take some of the untapped resources and mobilize them, follow smart strategies to increase productivity, and add new value to companies and economies. Now, everyone is searching for answers to those questions, but not enough people realize that part of the answer, a large part of the answer, lies with women.

Last September, I delivered a speech in San Francisco at the APEC, the Asia-Pacific economic conference lead-up, to make the case for increasing women’s participation in the global economy. You know from your own experiences that when women enjoy greater access and opportunity, there is a ripple effect. Businesses have more consumers, families have more to spend, and so it goes through the economy.

We have people around this table who have devoted their professional lives to unlocking the answers to these questions. Sri Mulyani here from the World Bank – she can tell us, in first-person detail, about how the Bank has released a new report, which I commend to all of you, about the impact women can have, not just for themselves and their families, something we’ve always known, but for entire economies. If women participated fully even in our own country, our GDP would rise considerably, and that is even more true in many other parts of the world.

The State Department has another advisory council whose subcommittee on women has produced a new report that looks specifically at the impact of women business leaders on companies and organizations. I want to thank its co-chairs, Judith Barnett and Jeff Volk, who are right there, for their leadership. Now, we’ll have the full results soon, but one fact is already clear: Including more women at the top of organizations, businesses, and the public sector is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. It’s good for business. It’s good for results.

Now, we all know the numbers. About three percent of the CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies are women. There are still a lot of obstacles to women entering. It depends, of course, on national, cultural, ethnic, religious reasons. But it cuts across all of that, and it is, to a greater or lesser degree, present in every society.

So the challenge before us today as we represent government, business, NGOs, workers, institutions is what are the ideas that we can promote that can help women be able to fulfill their own potential. How do we widen that circle of prosperity which will lift the entire global economy – women and men alike – and how do we, within our own organizations, do more to train and promote women to positions of leadership?

I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas, your initiatives, your thoughts, and looking forward to working with you to try to implement them. So let me now turn to my friend and fellow chair, Cherie.

PRN: 2012/111