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Promoting women entrepreneurs... Leadership in action

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Financing Women's Enterprise Forum
International Finance Corporation, The World Bank
Washington, DC, USA

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Thanks again Amanda for another marvellous introduction…

Some of you may have attended The International Alliance for Women (TIAW) Global Partnership Forum: Uncommon Women on Common Ground last November, right here in Washington. I was reading the summary report by Stephanie MacKendrick, President of Canadian Women in Communications and particularly noted her recap about Amanda's comments at the conference: she "spoke about the ways in which sharing information could help propel forward women entrepreneurs, not just in the western world, but in developing countries as well. She outlined an initiative to create a master directory of women entrepreneurs from existing directors and (ideas) to connect women entrepreneurs from countries where women's roles are restricted, with North American CEOs who can help with access to markets. (And) in order for such initiatives to succeed, Ms. Ellis stressed the importance of engaging male champions on issues to ensure they are seen as important by male peers who largely control the business environment." Now I get it - this is why Amanda invited me to speak today!

Since Hannah Sorscher, President of TIAW has joined us this afternoon, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate her on a fabulous forum and TIAW's support with tsunami reconstruction efforts! To all of you who have stepped up to the plate in one way or another to help southeast Asia during this horrendous disaster, a special thank you and round of applause. Talk about leadership in action.

I'm delighted to be here this afternoon - to participate in this forum on International Women's Day. If there's anyone in the room (and this includes you Amanda), who's hearing me speak for the third time today, I appreciate your staying power. In light of this special day that's celebrated around the world, coupled with the gender equality theme, I want to share the words of Agnes Macphail, Canada's first female Member of Parliament with you, as spoken in our House of Commons on February 26, 1925: "When I hear men talk about women being the angel of the home I always, mentally at least, shrug my shoulders in doubt. I do not want to be the angel of any home; I want for myself what I want for other women, absolute equality. After that is secured, then men and women can take turns at being angels."

I'm a strong advocate of women entrepreneurs, women executives, women in public life and women in community leadership. And more often than not, these women are also wives, partners and mothers - sometimes single moms. When you grow up with six sisters, you learn pretty darn fast about the importance of women in families, society, communities and business. And yes, the Women Entrepreneurs of Canada Foundation named me a honourary woman in 2001. I wear the distinction with great pride…

On February 28, Alison Maitland of the Financial Times wrote an article "The puzzle of the lost women." She spoke of "women graduates (who) enter many companies and professional firms in nearly equal numbers to men, but drop out as they rise up the ranks. How to hold on to this talent, and increase women's representation in senior jobs, has become a serious concern for leading employers." She poses the questions: "Is discrimination to blame? Is corporate culture at fault by favouring the linear career path traditionally taken by men? Or are women less ambitious, less willing to play power games and more susceptible to demands outside work?" Apparently all these elements could be at play, as several new studies reveal.

Alison goes on to write: "One survey, sponsored by Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers, was initiated by the Center for Work-Life Policy, a New York-based non-profit organization that has created a taskforce of 19 global companies looking for ways to reverse the hidden brain drain. For companies that lose talented women, the survey contains worrying news. None of those who left jobs in business, banking or finance wanted to return to their former employer: the overriding factor in their decision to take a career break was not family, as people might assume, but lack of job satisfaction." Some interesting research and food for thought…

The impact and influence of women on the prosperity of Canada and nations around the globe is not lost on RBC Financial Group or me. As I mentioned at lunch, women are also part of the diversity advantage. Although business interest and opportunity led RBC to pursue the women entrepreneurs' market eleven years ago, I saw other agendas at play - the big one being the critically and strategically important contributions that women make in advancing a civil society. The countless women I've met over the years have given me insight into the intrinsic connection between the economic and social agendas of our country. And RBC's work in this market has made it crystal clear to us (call it self-enlightenment if you will), that Canada's prosperity is contingent on the key link between these two diverse agendas.

When RBC targeted the women entrepreneurs market, our initial strategy was community/grassroots-based…we created advisory councils. Women told us to put dollars into learning - provide education and support, break down barriers and help build networks. Knowing we had to change the culture and mind-set of our staff, we embarked on training our workforce - small business account managers - men and women across the country. The program taught gender communication but it also served to raise market awareness within our sales force. We needed a way to sustain and spread the learning, so we created local champions - the cornerstone for delivery of our programs. The national network comprises approximately 100 women entrepreneur market champions. And our national market champion is here today - Kristina Depencier, RBC Royal Bank's recently appointed director of women's markets.

RBC also wanted to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to find useful information faster, as that's what good relationship building is all about. This was on our minds when we launched the web site for women entrepreneurs ( and our Champions newsletter. These resources provide information, association listings and news, as well as tips about access to markets, networking, financing, growing your business and much more. Copies of our newest edition of Champions are available here, so please pick one up at your convenience.

RBC Royal Bank (Canada) is a founding member of the Global Banking Alliance (GBA) for Women, dedicated to helping accelerate the growth of women-owned businesses. Other founding members include: Westpac (Australia), FleetBoston (based in Boston, Mass., USA), Bank of Ireland and RBC Centura Bank (based in North Carolina, USA). These banks have been recognized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as best-practices banks for their programs for women. Amanda participated in the Women Trading Globally Trade Mission and Forum presented by RBC last April in Vancouver. The GBA certainly had a presence at that event…

It's no surprise there's several myths about obtaining financing for women entrepreneurs. The reality is that, when it comes to financing their businesses, women and men are both approved at the about the same rate. The size of the company, length of time in business and the type of industry are just some of the factors that influence decisions made about financing - and these are non-gender specific.

For example, a common perception is that women entrepreneurs are approved for credit less often then men. In fact, women are more conservative when they approach their financing requirements - and they borrow less. When we surveyed our customers, 68% of women-owned businesses reported they have business borrowings versus 75% of male owned businesses. This includes borrowings from RBC or any other lender whether they are company loans, lines of credit, leases, or commercial mortgages.

Women-led businesses also tend to have a more conservative capital structure with less debt. As a result, women get approved at the same or better rates than their male counterparts. In a survey, Statistics Canada found that 85% of female owned businesses were approved for credit vs. 80% for men. And a Thompson Lightstone survey found the approval rate for women to be 91% vs. 82% for men.

We realize that access to financing/expertise is essential for any business, so we created partnerships both in and outside the country to help support the development of small business and share best practices. The GBA is one such partnership. RBC also initiated and participated in trade missions and alliances with the federal government.

Needless to say, RBC is proud to be the #1 bank for women entrepreneurs in Canada, with 22 per cent market share. We know the women entrepreneurs' market is the market of the future and the future is now: we also know that consumer spending accounts for two thirds of the economy and that women make 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions. Women entrepreneurs also account for 70% of new business start-ups.

RBC still has a way to go in meeting the needs of women entrepreneurs, yet we're gratified with our accomplishments to-date. Through our activities, initiatives and feedback from clients, we're generating more awareness about the economic power of businesswomen and women consumers. We believe very passionately in serving and supporting women entrepreneurs.

On the Canadian front…

  • Did you know that Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin foresees "a Canada where the increasing number of women entrepreneurs has every opportunity to succeed and contribute a vital new dimension to our economy - a Canada where there's no glass ceiling for women entrepreneurs." Since close to 821,000 women entrepreneurs contribute $18 billion to the Canadian economy each year, women need to raise the bar and raise their voice. In the Federal Budget, delivered on February 23rd, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said: "We will continue to work with grassroots business organizations…on how to further improve the productivity environment for Canadian SMEs, including the steadily increasing numbers of women entrepreneurs." Talk about leadership in action…

And in countries around the world…

  • Did you know that on February 23rd, "the Government of Uganda signed a financing agreement with The World Bank worth a total of US$70 million to support Private Sector Development in the country? This is the second project in which the World Bank is assisting the Government to support Ugandan enterprises more directly. It contains several innovative schemes intended to increase value added, support the linkages between enterprises, and improve skills, with a focus on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). It's also designed to improve enterprise creation…including women entrepreneurs." Congratulations to World Bank and the Government of Uganda. Talk about leadership in action…

  • Did you know that the China Association of Women Entrepreneurs (CAWE) projects women entrepreneurs to make up 30% of all entrepreneurs in China within three to five years? It also urges women to study strategies for managing a business as well as study skills to achieve domestic happiness. "A recent survey by the association showed that 85% of women executives look after their kids' education and 60% look after their parents." We cannot underestimate these findings (including the impact of child care), which have wider spread application. Talk about leadership in action…

  • Did you know that in India, the Union ministry of small-scale industries (SSIs) has decided to increase the credit-linked capital subsidy scheme from 12 to 15 per cent for the technology upgradation of SSI units? Sole proprietorships, partnerships, cooperative societies, private and public limited companies in the SSI sector were eligible for the capital subsidy scheme…and "priority shall be given to women entrepreneurs." Talk about leadership in action…

I would be remiss not to mention the Equator Principles in a room with IFC and World Bank colleagues. On July 23, 2003, RBC joined leading international banks in promoting responsible environmental and social development globally, when we became the first Canadian financial institution to adopt the Equator Principles, the voluntary set of guidelines to manage social and environmental issues related to large-scale project financing in developing countries. We're applying these principles globally to project financings in all industry sectors, including mining, oil and gas, and forestry. As a leading North American financial services provider, we recognize our role in supporting and advocating sustainable business practices.

The adoption of the Equator Principles enhances our existing environmental risk management policies and commitment to sustainable development. We provide loans only to those projects whose sponsors can demonstrate to our satisfaction, that they have addressed key social and environmental issues in accordance with our policies and processes. Since RBC occupies almost 20 million square feet of office space and employs over 60,000 people worldwide, our businesses are required to adhere to environmental policies regarding everything from responsible lending, to choosing suppliers and recycling. RBC Financial Group was also the first North American company, to sign the United Nations Environmental Programme's (UNEP) Statement by Financial Institutions on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

I noted the IFC launched its annual Sustainability Report for fiscal 2004 on March 2, which includes an update on the "ongoing adoption of the IFC-led Equator Principles by banks and financial institutions…and a commitment to expand its portfolio of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and the establishment of a program to promote gender equality and business opportunities for women." It's great to see that on March 3, just a few days ago, state-owned Brazilian bank, Banco do Brasil, adopted the Equator Principles, becoming the 29th financial institution to do so.

Speaking of principles, what RBC is doing in terms of integrity of business, contribution to economic prosperity and support for community causes, is documented in our 2004 Corporate Responsibility Report. I brought a few copies with me or you can follow our web site link below:

As I wrap up, special thanks to Amanda Ellis, Aya Okajima and Ann Pasco for coordinating my visit.

In closing, whether it's promoting women entrepreneurs or promoting sustainability, we must create and stimulate our local, national, North American and global work environments to capitalize on opportunities, participation, growth and diversity. There's no turning back - there's only learning and moving forward - leadership in action!

Thank you.