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Women Know Global: Perspectives from Leaders in Business

How can we close the global economic gender gap and support women in the workforce?

During Thursday’s Women Know Global virtual event hosted by the Center for Global Business (CGB) at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, four female business, development and research leaders offered insights on how to position women for success in the global economy.Moderator and CGB Executive Director Rebecca Bellinger was joined by CEOs Elizabeth Vasquez and Simona Scarpaleggia, as well as Dr. Margo Thomas, MS ’91, and author Dr. Linda Scott, with each panelist offering her unique perspective.

Scott noted how gender-based economic inequality lies at the root of systemic and societal issues like poverty. “Gender inequality is not a symptom of poverty, it’s a structural cause of it. It is always present and appears the same everywhere,” said Scott, author of The Double-X Economy: The Epic Potential of Empowering Women. “Economists and world leaders need to understand that this is a major piece of the world economy and it’s worth every dime, minute and thought we’ve got.”

A former CEO of IKEA Switzerland, Scarpaleggia emphasized the importance of having women involved in boardroom discussions. In addition to fighting for equal pay, she said the path forward for improving gender equality in the workplace is through creating meaningful policy and hiring practice changes.

Scarpaleggia, who said leaders must be held accountable when they pledge to promote gender equality, is now working with Edge, an organization dedicated to measuring and certifying gender and intersectional equality in the workplace. “This isn’t about women antagonizing men or ‘fixing’ women, those aren’t the angles. What’s good for women is also good for men and we need to fix the processes to uplift everyone.”

Despite strides in some areas, women still have relatively limited access to global markets. Vasquez, president and co-founder of WEConnect International, a nonprofit that works to empower women business owners by connecting them with market buyers around the world, said that there remains a disconnect between women-led businesses selling their products and buyers who are willing to purchase them. It’s frustrating, Vasquez said, because when women are given resources and opportunities, they are largely successful.

“Women are invisible in global value chains, there’s no country where women have access to business assets on an equal level. It’s not their fault, it’s that the systems in place aren’t set up for equal opportunity,” said Vasquez.

– Elizabeth Vasquez, President and Co-founder of WEConnect International

“If it’s not working for half of the population, then we need to leverage our purchasing power and use our influence to show it’s not working for us and that things need to change.”

Thomas, founder and president of the Women’s Economic Imperative, also a GBSN partner, aims to increase opportunities for the economic empowerment of disadvantaged and underrepresented groups globally, stressed the importance of taking action now to combat inequality to mitigate the ripple effects it could create years down the road.

It matters more than ever, she said, with the pandemic thrusting a significant portion of the world into deeper poverty and forcing women to delicately balance their careers with familial responsibilities.

“Inequality is affecting everything that follows us. That’s why we need to look at the sustainability of gender equality,” said Thomas. “We need to grow our economic ties because when we don’t include women, we are imposing a tax on the generations to come.”

The Distinguished Speakers in International Business Series is supported in part by CIBE, a Title VI grant administered by the U.S. Department of Education.