Annual International Meeting of the Financial Women’s Association

Berlin, March 17, 2014
Ambassador John B. Emerson

It’s a pleasure to welcome the Financial Women’s Association to Berlin.  I hope you are all enjoying this wonderful city.  What a great location for your annual international conference.  Kimberly Weinrick, Stephanie Ackler, Katrin Dambrot, and to all those who made this conference possible, congratulations!

Everybody here at the embassy would also like to thank you for joining us for a somewhat belated celebration of International Women’s Day.

Last week, your president, Kimberly Weinrick participated in another U.S. State Department Women’s Day event in Washington.  She led a discussion with the international delegates to a specially organized “Women and Entrepreneurship” official visitor program.  This project brought leaders from 21 countries to the United States.  The group included female entrepreneurs, business leaders and government officials, as well as academics and economic journalists.   The FWA session, led by Kimberly, illustrated the essential role that non-governmental and grassroots organizations play in empowering women.

That has been the goal of the Financial Women’s Association since it was established in 1956 by a group of eight women who worked on Wall Street.  They were visionaries.  They recognized the importance of mentoring and scholarship programs; and of networking; and of seeking opportunities to talk policy with government officials, and industry leaders, both at home and beyond. They also recognized the impact that the financial services and banking sectors of our economies have on the political and social concerns of the day; and they knew then that women needed not just to have a seat at the table when it came to facing the challenges ahead; they needed to be equally represented – at all levels of the industry.

Well, 58 years later, we all have come a long way.  Women have overcome discrimination, shattered glass ceilings, and become outstanding role models – both in the world of finance and beyond.  They have set an example for our daughters – and our sons.   As the father of three strong, intelligent young women and the former board chair of an all-girls school in Los Angeles, I am very appreciative of the commitment that people like you, the members of the Financial Women’s Association, demonstrate.

As well, of course, as people like Janet Yellen, my former colleague from the Clinton White House, who has just taken the helm at the Federal Reserve.  As you know, she is the first woman to serve in that role, and the first female leader of a major central bank anywhere in the world.

Three years ago, Christine Lagarde became the managing director of the international monetary fund.  She is also the first woman to be appointed to that position.

There are, of course, many more examples.  Here in Germany, Sabine Lautenschläger recently moved to the directorate of the European Central Bank from the Deutsche Bundesbank. Her position will be filled by Professor Claudia Buch.  Tomorrow, I understand you will meet Dr. Elke König, the head of the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority.

Janet Yellen has said that she never personally experienced discrimination.  Some of the other women I just mentioned, or you yourselves, may agree or disagree with that statement.  Nevertheless it is a fact that finance is still a male-dominated realm – in both the U.S. and Europe.  And I saw that first hand in my time in the industry.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, the Economist’sGlass Ceiling Index, OECD reports, and country-level data show very clearly that there are still discrepancies between the job opportunities and wages available to women versus those of their male counterparts in both this industry and others.

On the other hand, however, numerous studies have confirmed that reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth.  There is also data to show that there is a positive correlation between gender diversity on top leadership teams, and a company’s financial results.

And so, every time a glass ceiling is broken, it carries not only symbolic, but also substantive, importance.  It sends a signal that our governments, our societies, and our economies are more inclusive.  And it may even help a company’s bottom line.  And that’s good for all of us.

On both sides of the Atlantic, we are recovering from the global financial crisis.  The experiences and the state of play in the United States and the Eurozone are in some cases different, but there is a large measure of commonality.  This is why the transatlantic trade and investment partnership agreement, currently under negotiation, is so important.

I know you will hear more to say on this topic tomorrow, but as an appetizer, I would note that the U.S. and the EU are engaged in ambitious dialogues on financial regulation in bilateral and multilateral channels.  T-TIP, as an example, will ensure nondiscriminatory market access and the full range of investor protections for financial services firms.  It will create a framework in which we can work even more closely together; and it will create the momentum necessary for innovation which we know works best in an environment that supports diversity.

The most valuable resource that any country has, and the most important determinant of its competitiveness, is its human talent – the skills, education and productivity of its workforce.  In the developed world and increasingly in emerging economies, women constitute an enormous portion of that talent pool.  In other words, a nation’s competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it utilizes its women power.

And particularly in the developing world, women who are given an education are more likely to work; less likely to marry as girls; more likely to invest in their communities and invest in the education of their children; and more likely to help their local, regional and national economies grow, creating greater opportunities for peace and prosperity.  Perhaps you have seen The Girl Effect, the short, but powerful, video that illustrates this dynamic.   So you are leaders in what could be the most important movement there is for shaping a better world.

With that in mind, let me close by saying what a pleasure and a privilege it is this evening to be with such a wonderful group of talented and accomplished women – and some talented men too.

Thank you and again, make the most out of your conference and your stay in Berlin.