Carmen Niethammer

Carmen Niethammer is responsible for Strategy and Knowledge in IFC's Women in Business Program, which is charged with creating opportunities for women as leaders, entrepreneurs and employees in developing countries. She manages the secretariat of WINvest (“investing in women”), a new World Bank Group global partnership initiative with the private sector, aimed at improving working conditions and employment opportunities for women while improving business performance.

Carmen has written extensively on "Women and Business" and "Women on Boards". Previously, she was IFC’s Gender Program Manager for the Middle East and North Africa, based in Cairo, where she led the team that provides technical solutions to growth-oriented small and medium female-owned enterprises.

Carmen joined IFC from the World Bank, where she was an Operations Officer in the Office of the MENA Chief Economist. Prior to joining the World Bank Group in 1999, Carmen was an Aid Coordinator as part of the UN Resident Coordinator System in Sana'a, Yemen. Carmen is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Women in the Private Sector: Good for Development and Business

Women in the private sector represent a powerful source of economic growth and opportunity. By strengthening women's roles as leaders, entrepreneurs, employees, consumers, and economic stakeholders, one can reinforce and transform the economy itself. This is exactly what IFC is setting out to do. IFC's Women in Business (WIN) program promotes business opportunities by assisting its clients to take a gender view across all areas of business.

As the World Bank’s 2012 flagship World Development Report demonstrates, promoting women’s participation in the private sector matters for development. It’s not only the right thing to do but gender equality is smart economics. Women’s economic empowerment is critical for economic growth.  Under-investing in women not only limits economic and social development, but it puts a brake on poverty reduction.

This year, the World Bank’s World Development Report is all about jobs. And it illustrates how a job is the best path out of poverty. It is the private sector which creates about 90 percent of jobs in the developing world. The research is clear:  jobs empower women to invest more in their children and their society.

Yet there are many more women than men are in non-wage work in low- and lower-middle income countries. Women make up nearly 50 percent of the world's population but only 40.8 percent of the formal global labor market.  So there is vast untapped economic and productive potential in too many countries. Why are participation rates so low and opportunities so few?

Worldwide, education levels of women have increased. Educated women earn more than their uneducated peers.  But still there’s a wide gender gap in the workforce. It is barriers like legislation, cultural restrictions, informal work, and access to finance which are holding women back.

Now more than ever – with the global economy volatile and uncertain – the world can ill-afford to overlook the benefits of full and productive employment for women.  The global economy loses out when the global capacity for productive potential remains untapped.  Nearly half (48.4 percent) of the available productive potential of females is under or unutilized, compared to 22.3 percent for men.  Strengthening women’s participation in the formal labor force harnesses this untapped potential for advancing development. 

Full and productive employment for women not only empowers then but also opens up more business opportunities for the private sector, stronger communities for society, and greater sustainable economic growth for countries. 

This session will address some broader questions on the emerging challenges and remaining obstacles faced by women in the private sector; the interest of and role for the private sector in closing the gap in access to finance for women entrepreneurs; in leadership on boards; and in access to markets more generally.