EESC plenary debate on 'Investments to promote gender equality: the role of finance and public recovery policies'
Speech by Civil Society Organisations' Group President Séamus Boland
Dear guests and colleagues,
There are many angles to the topic of gender inequality. But this one, on investments and gender equality, really speaks to our Age. Women represent more than half the population, but they account for less than 1/3 of entrepreneurs. And in 2021, less than 1% of venture capital investing went to female-founded companies in Europe. At the same time, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that businesses with women at the helm are better governed and more creative. And women invest much more than men in developing human capital. So what do we need to do to rebalance the equation?
In my opinion, there are three priorities for what should be done here in Europe:
Firstly, we must push for acceptance that there are differences between women and men:
- The false perception that men and women are alike, is the basis for all aspects of gender inequality;
- Women and men are different and those differences should be cherished, rather that trying to force one gender to emulate the other or to operate in a single mould within our societies and economies.
Secondly, we need to design a new enterprise model which is gender neutral and fit for this decade:
- This means looking at both the supply and demand sides of the ecosystem;
- Creating a level-playing field to meet women's financial and non-financial needs;
- Because unconscious bias by, often male investors, is a reality;
- In contrast, female investors are 3 times more likely to fund women CEOs;
- And non-performing loans by women are a lot fewer than among men;
- Despite these facts, there are persistent negative perceptions regarding women's entrepreneurial skills;
- Resulting in low levels of investment into female entrepreneurs, who are more likely to use private and family funds to launch a business;
- So we need more diversity in financial managers and more outreach to women entrepreneurs;
- We need targeted financial literacy for women entrepreneurs and gender neutral training for investors;
- But perhaps more than anything else, it is imperative that we measure and report on gaps on gender financing;
- After all, what is not measured, does not exist!
- Only then will we be able to tackle the causes and identify the solutions.
My third recommendation calls for a strong network of actors to combat this form of gender inequality:
- The actors should include the private and public sector banks, policy-makers, but of course also civil society organisations representing families and women entrepreneurs;
- It is imperative to raise awareness on the gender finance gap, through trainings, the creation of networks of gender-conscious investors and publicity on models of successful female entrepreneurs;
- Crucially, we must make changes from within and that means working closely with men to bring about these much needed improvements.
I will end my commentary with a reference to the suffragist Millicent Fawcett, who famously said that "Courage calls to courage everywhere and its voice cannot be denied". We all have a responsibility and role in this fight…
Thank you for your attention.