WEgate Summit 2022 - Opening Speech

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Esteemed guests and members of the WEgate Community,

I am honoured to welcome all of you here today. As president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), I am delighted to speak at the WEgate Summit 2022 and set the stage for this important discussion on "Invest in and with Women Entrepreneurs in Europe".

Allow me to briefly explain the EESC's role. The EESC is an EU institution advising the European Commission, Council and European Parliament. We represent the voice of organised civil society organisations at EU level, including Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). I'm happy to bring you our perspective today.

There is no doubt whatsoever that our economy and societies are facing unprecedented challenges. The combined impact of the twin ecological and digital transitions is shaping every aspect of our economy and society. Unless we tap the potential of the digital transformation, it will be impossible to achieve the ambitious objectives of the Green Deal.

Entrepreneurs are an essential part of the solution for a competitive, green and inclusive EU economy. We need to empower them to reach their full potential. While women represent more than half the population, they account for less than a third of entrepreneurs. Fostering female entrepreneurship is not only a question of fairness. Businesses with women in decision-making positions are proven to have better governance styles, which encourage diversity and innovative thinking. Despite receiving less than half of the investment capital of their male peers, female-founded companies deliver twice as much revenue per dollar invested.

If Europe wants to be a frontrunner, we need to support our female entrepreneurs better. Female entrepreneurs still have higher mountains to climb in their working lives. They face a higher risk of in-work poverty and have to deal with stereotypes that can prevent them from accessing finance. These barriers need to be removed. Public investments in gender equality, including in digital and care infrastructure, are crucial to empowering women to exploit their full potential. That is why the EESC is currently drafting an opinion on Gender lens investing as a way to improve gender equality in the European Union, to be adopted in December.

As reiterated in our recent opinion on gender equality, we must also ensure equal access to both private financing and public funding. That's what today's discussion is about. The Commission proposal to launch a gender-smart financing initiative to stimulate funding for women-led companies is a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done. Access to finance is often not just a question of resources, but also of the entrepreneur's experience, competence and trustworthiness. That's why events like this are so important: investors, as well as entrepreneurs and decision-makers, can all learn a lot from each other.

Welcoming our many brilliant women entrepreneurs today gives me great joy. We absolutely need role models, to encourage young girls to harness their full potential and contribute to a thriving EU economy. As Beyoncé famously said, 'Power is not given to you. You have to take it.'

We need a change in culture in order to effect a real change in our society and economy – whether this is about female entrepreneurship or putting the green and digital transitions into practice. I am confident that women entrepreneurs are essential drivers of this change!

From my own perspective, the European Economic and Social Committee remains committed to amplifying women's voices to make them heard at EU level. Only together can we make concrete progress towards a more gender-equal society and economy.

I wish you all an enriching discussion.

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WEgate Summit 2022 - Opening Speech