IFC CEO's speech at International Women's Day celebration event

Speech by Philippe Le Houérou, CEO

March 6, 2020, IFC Headquarters


Good morning. It’s a pleasure to join IFC’s International Women’s Day celebration—a day for us to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

Our special guest, Her Excellency Roya Rahmani, Afghan Ambassador to the United States, is a champion for women’s empowerment.

We are pleased to have her join us today. I personally look forward to hearing her inspiring story and lessons on not just women’s empowerment but on the promotion of human rights for all.

Challenge in Achieving Gender Equality

Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is the fifth Sustainable Development Goal. But the sobering news is that at the current pace, none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, it will take nearly 100 years for the world to attain gender parity.

The area of greatest concern, as identified by the report, is women’s economic participation and opportunity. For this metric, it found that progress has actually regressed, and we are facing a massive 257 years before gender parity can be achieved!

Why is this happening? Well, to start with, women face greater hurdles than men in almost all spheres of economic activity, including access to finance, assets, technology, good-quality jobs, and peer-to-peer networks.

I believe in letting figures speak for themselves, so let me present some.

Only 55 percent of women globally are engaged in the labor market, as opposed to 78 percent of men.

Women, on average, devote 1 to 5 hours more a day than men in unpaid domestic work and childcare, and 1 to 6 hours less a day than men in market activities.

There are 72 countries in the world where women are barred from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit.

Women-owned businesses comprise 28 percent of business establishments and account for 32 percent of the MSME finance gap. The total MSME finance gap for women is estimated to be valued at $1.7 trillion.

Economic Benefits from Reducing Gender Equality

What if we could reverse these trends? World Bank Group research suggests that if women earned as much as men, the total gain in human capital wealth in 2017 would have been a staggering $172 trillion.

This “gender dividend” would have raised global human capital wealth by about one-fifth, and that of women by more than half. Clearly, reducing gender equality makes good economic sense apart from being the right thing to do.

To realize the economic benefits that arise from reductions in gender inequality, countries will need to make the necessary investments.

Priority areas are (i) early childhood development to reduce the impact of gender inequality; (ii) adolescent girls to delay marriage and childbearing while improving education opportunities; and (iii) adult women to improve employment and earning opportunities.

Advancing Gender Equality in the Private Sector

At IFC, we have developed a comprehensive approach to reducing gender inequality.

We create partnerships to encourage the hiring of women and improve their working conditions. We help expand access to financial services for women. We invest in innovative technologies that expand choices for female consumers and employment. And we work with partners to provide business skills and leadership training to women entrepreneurs.

Recently, we helped launch insurance programs in Ghana and Cameroon to protect women from unexpected events in their lives and businesses. Up to 3 million women are expected to benefit by 2022.

In Fiji and the Solomon Islands, we researched the impact of domestic and sexual violence, showing the costs to companies of increased absenteeism and reduced productivity.

And our new study, Her Home—Housing Finance for Women, highlights the impressive gains that could be made by addressing gender imbalances. For example, the market for housing finance among women in Colombia, India, and Kenya alone is estimated at more than $70 billion.

In the first two quarters of FY20, IFC made nearly $1 billion of long-term commitments to financial institutions for onward lending to women.

We reached 38 percent female representation for IFC-nominated board positions in firms where we have equity investments—above our FY20 target of 35 percent. We have to reach 50 percent in the next few years.

And we marked almost a quarter of our advisory projects with the gender flag, which involves conducting gender-gap analysis, taking action to address those gaps, and tracking the impact of these actions.

I’m also excited to share that IFC launched its second Gender Strategy Implementation Plan. It outlines how we’ll close gaps between women and men, as defined by the WBG Gender Strategy.

Advancing Gender Equality at IFC

Internally at IFC, we must also “walk the talk” to ensure that gender equality—along with overall diversity—is protected and promoted.

The good news is that since I joined exactly four years ago, we have made good progress: currently, 33 percent of IFC vice presidents are women, up from 22 percent at the end of FY15. We have nearly 40 percent women managers, up from 34 percent in FY15. And, 49 percent of our GF grade or above are women, up from 44 percent in FY15.

The sponsorship program at IFC for women and other underrepresented groups in management leadership is now into its third cohort. The program pairs managers and GH-grade staff with vice president sponsors.

But let’s be honest, this progress has not been an easy road. It takes a lot to break habits and to change mindsets.

I look forward to IFC reaching greater heights in its efforts to bring gender parity. We need to lead. We will lead by example and we will persevere at all levels inside our organization, and in our advisory services, our thought leadership and our investments. Thank you.