#Newsroom: International Conference Focuses on Women’s Economic Empowerment

Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability

Women’s Economic Empowerment: Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability Conference. PIC © Malcolm Cochrane Photography

Washington, DC December 2019. Women’s Economic Empowerment: Opportunities and Challenges for Equity, Inclusive Growth, and Sustainability were topics discussed during the first international women’s economic empowerment conference held in November in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Hosted at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Gogarburn Business School, the conference was presented by Women’s Economic Imperative (WEI), the global collaborative initiative, in partnership with Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES), the community interest company which focuses on the contribution women’s enterprise makes to the Scottish economy.

The conference gathered international speakers, thought leaders and change makers representing civil society, academia as well as private and public sectors from across the globe. It focussed on sharing knowledge, engaging participants in active dialog, and catalysing concrete actions to help advance women’s economic empowerment. Driving the agenda were the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the work of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, and the outcomes of the T-20 Task Force on Gender Economic Equity.

Participants heard from women who have broken cultural and industry barriers as they progressed careers in sectors such as technology, medicine, aviation, and finance. Speakers included technology evangelist Professor Sue Black; Kenyan Airways Captain and first female African Dreamliner pilot, Captain Irene Koki Mutungi, and the Hon. Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera, Former President of Costa Rica and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Prominent Scottish and global industry leaders such as Malcolm Buchanan, RBS Chair of Scotland Board; Keith Skeoch, CEO Standard Life Aberdeen, the Rt Hon. Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chairman, Mastercard were joined by leading global academics, businessmen and women, and international diplomats to share findings and discuss best practices.

The two-day conference broke new ground in advancing the discussion on gender at the intersection of economics, politics, geography and health. It culminated in a commitment for action from several sectors including health, technology, finance, enterprise and education, as it focused on the importance of concrete actions across societies, industry and governments. Hon Luis Guillermo Sallis Rivera emphasized in his keynote speech that the seven key drivers of economic empowerment are relevant across all sectors and geographies, whether it is industry or health; at home or in the workplace. From tackling adverse norms and promoting positive role models; ensuring the right legal protection; recognising unpaid work and care; building and owning financial and digital assets to empower economically, to changing mind-sets and behaviours, and eliminating barriers in cultures, the work place and markets.

Dr. Margo Thomas, Founder and President of WEI explained, “We all know the key issues and drivers of women’s economic empowerment. We must focus now on actions. As a global organization, WEI, with the support of our WEI Board and Advisory Council, is leveraging its global networks, affiliations, and partnerships to share knowledge, craft solutions, and catalyse concrete actions to help advance women’s economic empowerment and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the benefit of all.”

In welcoming the conference attendees to Edinburgh during the opening reception at City Chambers, the Right Honourable Lord Provost of Edinburgh noted that Scotland is making strides in creating an environment where more women and girls can start up in business and thrive

Carolyn Currie, Chief Executive, Women’s Enterprise Scotland explained that “As a catalyst for economic growth and inclusion, WES works to create an environment where women can start up in business and thrive. The simple fact is that more women-owned businesses in Scotland means more money for the economy. Research shows that women-owned businesses already contribute a staggering GBP 8.8 bn into the economy every year and have created over 230,000 jobs in local communities across Scotland.”

WEI was established in 2018 in response to the call to action of the United Nations High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Since its launch, WEI has embarked on several global initiatives focussing on innovation, enterprise and trade, spearheading action to create and grow sustainable economic opportunities for women.

Women’s equality and empowerment is one of the United Nations’ 17 SDGs and is central to all aspects of inclusive and sustainable development. The G20, leaders of the most powerful 20 countries in the world, made this commitment at their summit in Osaka in June 2019: “Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth. We reconfirm their importance in all aspects of our policies and as a cross-cutting issue at upcoming Summits.” However, according to the SDG Index research, no country is currently on track to achieve all SDG’s by 2030[1].

The platinum sponsors of the conference were The Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Life Aberdeen and Mastercard. Additional sponsors included AllAfrica, the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, Newcastle University Business School, Durham University Business School, Portsmouth University and Business Gateway Edinburgh, among others.

[1] Berteslmann Stiftung and Sustainable Development Solutions Network (2018) viii


Notes to Editors

  • Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) works to create an entrepreneurial environment where women-led businesses can flourish. WES collaborates with other business support organisations to help close the gender gap in enterprise
  • Research shows that women-owned businesses in Scotland contribute £8.8bn into the economy every year and have created over 230,000 jobs[1]
  • WES is a member of the T20, the think tank and “ideas bank” of the G20 and participated in the T20 Summit in Tokyo in 2019 and in Buenos Aires in 2018
  • Dr Margo Thomas, founder of WEI, is the co-Chair of the Gender Economic Equity workstream of the T20
  • WEI is a global, collaborative initiative to promote women’s economic empowerment and was founded in January 2018 as a response to the Call to Action of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
  • WEI seeks to catalyze and advance the transformative work of empowering women as economic actors globally through Entrepreneurship, Advocacy and Thought Leadership
  • Full text of the G20 Osaka Leaders’ declaration https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/06/29/national/full-text-g20-osaka-leaders-declaration/#.XRspdS2ZOb8
  • Details of conference speakers and biographies can be found here https://www.weiforward.org/conference/

Women’s Economic Imperative



[1] ‘Supporting Women’s Enterprise in the UK; the Economic Case’, FSB (2018)

Participating in WealthBriefing Research on Female Clients and Entrepreneurs

Winning Women:Key Insights for Wealth Firms Targetting Today's Dynamic Female ClientsWe were delighted to be invited to participate in the WealthBriefing Research Report launched in London in December 2017 at the 5th WealthBriefing European Family Wealth Forum.

The report, produced in partnership with Boston Multi Family Office and Wealthmonitor, explores the sectors and regions where women are “winning” in the wealth stakes today, and outlines key ways firms might look to attract and retain their business.

“Global wealth demographics have been going through seismic shifts in recent decades. Emerging markets have enjoyed explosive growth in their high and ultra-high net worth populations, while a new generation of younger clients has come to the fore. But it is the growth in women’s wealth that is arguably the most important change firms must adapt to: women are currently estimated to control around a third of the world’s total private wealth, with their financial strength growing at every level.

Not only do female clients constitute a large segment, but they are also a highly attractive one inclined towards greater loyalty and advocacy of their trusted advisors. It is therefore paramount that firms do not continue to be largely “gender-blind” and make greater efforts to attract and retain their business.

This cutting-edge study is based on a survey of wealth-holders, entrepreneurs/business-owners, family office professionals and other advisors; along with proprietary data on liquidity events collated by Wealthmonitor. Over half our survey participants think women’s economic power and financial independence is growing rapidly around the world, and this is convincingly backed up by wealth creation trends. In Europe, female wealth steadily increased throughout the years between 2012 and 2016, with industrials and chemicals the top sector for wealth creation, followed by the consumer and technology sectors.

Many firms pay little heed to gender in their client strategies, but approaching two-thirds of participants think wealth managers should certainly take gender into account. Indeed, 34% see it as being of the utmost importance to an intelligent segmentation strategy. In this context, it is telling that 62% of wealth management professionals believe that the industry does not cater well to the specific wants and needs of female clients, and just one in ten sees women as very well served at present.”

The report highlighted specific challenges which needed to be tackled, including:

“Female UHNWIs and entrepreneurs face a raft of particular challenges throughout their wealth journeys, and particularly so in certain geographies and sectors. They may find themselves feeling isolated indeed when building up their businesses for instance. Firms committed to addressing these issues will therefore be well placed to build affinities with female wealth creators, and also to build out product and service offerings that are highly attuned to women’s specific needs. In order to help women achieve their goals and optimise their experience, the report found that specific advisor education should be a high priority; overall, a massive 82% of respondents advocated further training on this front. More broadly, 84% of participants believe that wealth firms need to have greater female representation in their workforces and leadership teams to better engage with wealthy women.

The report also looks in depth at the differences in how males and females invest, and how they define success in their own lives. Socially Responsible Investing and impact investing are thought to hold particular appeal for female investors, with 70% of respondents believing this to be the case.  Our expert panel also pointed out that firms targeting wealthy women also stand much to gain from providing networking, collaboration and mentoring opportunities for their clients, gaining the loyalty and trust of female wealth creators by helping them towards their goals in very concrete ways.

Females are increasingly households’ primary earners across developed countries, while labour market participation and education are improving in even the most previously restrictive regions. True, global gender equality may still be some way off, but we should all look forward to a time when half the world’s population will wield half its financial power – and wealth firms seeking genuine net new asset growth should be in particular.”

Noreen Cesareo, who gave views on marketing to female wealth-holders, business-owners and entrepreneurs said that, “The research is very timely and mirrors the findings I have come across in my own work and research in recent years on women’s economic empowerment, the UK Economic Blueprint for women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs. The demographic is not well serviced, and as many firms are finding out,  pushing communications, collateral and product/service design that have been prepared to appeal to a different audience – typically one that is male, older and reflecting a different lifestyle to your target segment – will certainly fail. It is clear from feedback provided by female wealth-holders and entrepreneurs that most wealth management campaigns are clearly being focused on segments other than them. Jargonistic language which alienates women rather than convincing them to invest is a particular issue.

“The solution is to “get back to basics” and understand the drivers within the segment and communicate the organisation’s appreciation of them in a way which the type of women being targeted can relate to, fits their lifestyle (whatever that may be) and isn’t patronising. Life stage, family situation and source of wealth were just a few of the segmentation factors which will have an impact and have been identified as particularly worthy of attention when institutions are targeting women.”

Noreen Cesareo is involved in a number of international initiatives looking at diversity and female economic empowerment, including:

  • The UK Economic Blueprint, which will enable women to achieve their maximum potential and to participate fully in the country’s economic growth. It aims to help create the conditions for scalable women-owned businesses to gain a fairer share of business opportunities and contracts nationally. Lead: Team UK WBs Economic Blueprint : Marketing & PR; Access to Markets: Exports
  • The All Party Parliamentary Group for Women & Enterprise: lead on International Trade and Connections
  • WEIForward Team and Tech Platform