As the State Department’s Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, I work with senior officials around the world to reduce the barriers that prevent U.S. companies from competing in overseas markets. Whether in Washington, visiting America’s heartland, or traveling overseas, I prioritize connecting with entrepreneurs and innovators. As a lifelong entrepreneur, I know that the most vibrant economies owe their competitive edge to a diverse and innovative business community.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems that invigorate and diversify the global marketplace also open the way for U.S. companies to compete and lead. U.S. entrepreneurs are deploying global technologies, developing new products for exports, and strengthening global supply chains, creating jobs and prosperity here at home. The same is true of entrepreneurs across the world who are contributing to the global economy while raising prosperity and stability within their own countries and communities.
As we celebrate the contributions that women all over the world have made, we must also acknowledge that American women still face formidable challenges in scaling companies. Women-owned businesses comprise roughly 40 percent of those founded each year, yet women receive less than 2 percent of our nation’s venture capital investment. This year, women CEOs finally reached 10 percent of the Fortune 500 company leadership, but they still represent only a fraction of the qualified women that competed for such positions.
The global marketplace must also include equal participation by women if it is to enable the most talented, driven, and innovative businesses to rise to the top. Women’s inclusion and leadership have been shown to boost innovative and sustainable solutions across the economy. Yet in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sectors where diversity and innovation are needed the most, women participate at some of the lowest rates. While emerging tech should create the best possible solutions to our most pressing global challenges, the World Economic Forum reports that, again, women comprise only 20 percent of engineering graduates.
The first region that I visited after arriving at the State Department last February, the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), loses $575 billion each year due to low female economic participation. The female unemployment rate of 15.5 percent – as compared to 6.7 percent for men – is nearly three times higher than the world average. While entrepreneurship enables women to enter economies where their participation is limited, there is a 40 percent gap in business ownership between men and women across the MENA region – the largest of any region worldwide.
Wherever I travel, I carry the stories of women business owners in the United States and around the world and work with officials and the private sector to address challenges accessing finance, overcoming barriers, and balancing professional goals with often disproportionate demands for women at home. Missions around the world are always critical partners in these discussions, making available many mechanisms of support and tools to support women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.
While attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Forum in Bangkok last year, I had the honor of leading a pitch competition by women innovators attending a U.S. Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) business competition. The GIST initiative helps women entrepreneurs in the STEM fields build strong business plans, and it provides finance for competition winners.
The first-ever U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security that Secretary Blinken helped launch in January includes support to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship and financial and digital inclusion. It seeks to reduce systemic social, cultural and legal barriers to women’s economic participation, and drawing on the resources of 12 agencies, the strategy includes a focus on mitigating climate change, including in the energy sector, and on closing the gender gap in STEM fields. Expanding women’s access to markets and finance for the purpose of fostering entrepreneurship and innovation could add between $5 and $6 trillion in net value to the global economy over the coming decade.
We cannot advance our global commercial interests effectively without advancing women’s business participation – these endeavors go hand in hand. Throughout my advocacy for U.S. companies of all sizes around the world on behalf of the Department of State, I will continue to promote women’s economic inclusion and leadership, both at home and abroad.