SMEs and entrepreneurship

Women entrepreneurs: key messages


OECD Conference on "Women Entrepreneurs in SMEs: A Major Force in Innovation and Job Creation"
In organising this conference, the OECD was honoured by the presence of a number of Ministers and senior policy makers. The following quotations, which follow the order of the programme, were chosen to illustrate the importance attached by governments to the issues of women entrepreneurship and SMEs. Extracts from the speeches of the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD are also included, as well as those of a high-level representative of IBM, a major sponsor of the conference. The extracts provide the essential message coming out of the conference, and it is hoped that they will stimulate thinking and provoke constructive change in the field of women entrepreneurs in SMEs.
  • Mr. Donald J. Johnston, Secretary-General, OECD
"Half of the brainpower on Earth is in the heads of women. (...) Today, the difficulty is to move from the acceptance of equal rights to the reality of equal opportunity. This transition will not be complete until women and men have equal opportunities for occupying positions in power structures throughout the world. This includes not only public law-making and policy-formulating bodies, but also the world of private business. Society as a whole stands to gain by accelerating the process."
  • M. René Monory, President of the Senate, France
"Over the coming decade, the world may well change as much as it did over the last 150 years. This will be due in particular to the immense progress that has been made in communication and technology. We are witnessing a veritable revolution in employment and industrial structures linked to the phenomenon of globalisation. Society is becoming increasingly tertiary, work is becoming more human, and this quite naturally leaves women and SMEs significant space. There should be more French women who leave to work in foreign countries because they have an increasingly important role to play on the international scene."
  • Ms. Anna Finocchiaro, Minister for Equal Opportunity, Italy
"The Italian Government has adopted as its strategic point the promotion of new growth through the valorisation of innovating factors represented by women's skills and entrepreneurship. The Government adopted a directive from Prime Minister Romano Prodi on 7 March 1997, announcing 'Actions to promote women's empowerment and to recognise and ensure freedom of choice and a better quality of social living for women and men'. These objectives are in line with the Platform for Actions adopted by the 4th UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (September 1995)"
  • Mr. Heinrich Kolb, Secretary of State, Ministry of Economy, Germany
"We need to improve the environment for SMEs, because they are creating scope for more growth employment, broadspace innovation, better skills in the local and global markets. SMEs have to be more forward-looking. In Germany, those women who use government incentives are doing as well as men in creating enterprises. Women bring fresh motivation. Women will fit better into the new service society than in the old industrial society. Our countries can no longer do without the expertise, skills and experience of women entrepreneurs."
  • Ms. Ann Diamantopoulou, Secretary of State, Ministry of Development, Greece
"Women and SMEs constitute the main weapons for helping us to build a future without discrimination. We fight for our rights, and not for privileges, because business has no gender. What is a natural success for men is a conquest for women. (...) Women's participation in any kind of economic activity is of a complementary nature to their family incomes; their participation in no way reduces their family duties."
  • Mme Rita Dionne-Marsolais, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Quebec, Canada
"In creating networks of women entrepreneurs we do not seek to marginalise women, but rather to give them access to the new alliances that are shaping tomorrow's economy. Networking gives women the opportunity to end their isolation and, above all, gives them access to strategic information. Beyond any action that we can implement, there is a common denominator that might incite women to create their enterprise: developing an entrepreneurial culture. A taste for business must come from the business environment itself. The OECD can play the role of a facilitator and even of a catalyst in putting these structures into place."
  • Ms. Betsy Myers, Director of the White House Office of Women's Initiatives and Outreach, United States
"Women's equality is defined by women's economic empowerment. And the ultimate empowerment is through entrepreneurship. Women-owned businesses are the fastest growing force in the US economy, prompting President Clinton to call women business owners 'the new face of our economy'. Since 1992, our Small Business Administration (SBA) has increased its loans to women by almost 300per cent. More than 40per cent of all micro loans are now going to women. (...) When women thrive, their families thrive and the nation thrives."
  • Mr. Michel Boussard, Vice President, Global General Business Marketing & Business Development, IBM Euro Co-ordination
"IBM has created a world-wide organisation focused on women entrepreneurs (headed by CheriePiebes). IBM's four priorities in this field are:
  • working with policy makers to improve data and statistics on women business owners (WBOs);
  • partnering with associations of women entrepreneurs on the strategic use of technology to gain competitive advantage and to help WBOs to expand into new markets;
  • forming global strategic alliances of corporations interested in fostering the growth of WBOs;
  • accelerating the diffusion and identification of best practices relevant to women."
  • Ms. Barbara Prammer, Federal Minister for the Condition of Women, Austria
"This OECD conference clearly signals the public awareness of women's role in the economy and of an emerging shift in the distribution of power. A new generation of highly educated and motivated women is emerging, and they are creating businesses through their own choice and not by family lineage. As newly appointed Minister for the Condition of Women in Austria, I opened the first International Women's Business Centre in Vienna at the beginning of April 1997. The centre's main objective is to minimise the burden that women face in starting a business, by providing professional bankers, trainers and lawyers who can be consulted for advice."
  • Mme Anne-Marie Couderc, Deputy Minister for Employment in Charge of Women's Rights, France
"Women provide an essential opportunity for economic and social development and progress. They have a different vision thanks to the delays they are currently remediating, a vision which is new and different, realistic, modern, and enthusiastic. When social structures leave them no possibility for evolving in their careers, and when civil society closes its doors to them, women take their own initiatives. They are quite naturally drawn to initiative, to creation and to the management of businesses.
Economic and social responsibility make political responsibility easier to take. There will be a natural and inevitable progression from one to the other which will be more successful than any discriminatory mechanism; therefore, non-discrimination should remain a basic principle."
  • The Right Honourable Ms. Irene Pivetti, Former President of the Parliament, Italy
"This conference reflects ongoing structural change in the economy, in society and in politics. This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan which gave birth to the OECD. The time is also ripe for change in the OECD, and this conference is an indication of an institution trying to keep pace with social and political realities such as the new role of women as entrepreneurs.
Spreading entrepreneurship in general, and women's entrepreneurship in particular, has always relied on local culture and local social capital. Where entrepreneurship thrives, it is because local values and political powers implement a policy conducive to an enhanced role for women and entrepreneurship in general."
  • Ms. Joanna R. Shelton, Deputy Secretary-General, OECD
"A major message that came out across-the-board is the need for government programmes and private sector services to be more efficient in meeting the needs of the users ' SMEs in general, and women-owned SMEs in particular.
The recommendations coming out of the Conference are oriented towards the future. They very much centre on how to improve the opportunities available to women to make use of new instruments, exploit and demand new technologies, enter new markets through liberalisation and regulatory reform, do away with costly and ineffective bureaucracy and administrative burdens, and develop a new spirit of entrepreneurship."
Latest update 01 July 1998


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