Diversity and global mindset – key drivers for innovation and entrepreneurship

Innlegg ved statssekretær Dilek Ayhan på likestillingskonferanse, Tokyo 10.april 2014

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends.

Konnichi wa [kån-nitsji va], good afternoon everyone.

 

First of all let me express my gratitude and thanks to the Norwegian embassy for the invitation to this event.

I am grateful that you have asked me to share some thoughts on diversity and gender equality in business.

As a politician and a woman– these are issues that concern me deeply. But let me early admit that – on the contrary to many of my colleagues – I do not have a political background:

In fact I am a computer engineer and entrepreneur.

Before I started at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, I established the company Alarga in 2008.

Our main mission with this company was to give opportunities to young talents, with a foreign background, in Norwegian companies so that businesses could meet the demands of international competition.

One of the most important lessons I learned during my time as head of Alarga, is that young talents are crucial for companies adapting to future possibilities and requirements in a globalised economy.

 

The opportunities these future changes give are most welcome in today’s Europe, because one thing is absolutely certain: Europe needs more jobs.

 In a struggling Europe – Norway is doing fairly well.

Our unemployment rate is among the lowest in Europe – at only 3,5 per cent.

There is a lot I could share with you about Norway and the government’s visions and policies for our industries and enterprises.

But if there is one thing I can say is that one of the most important pillars for our competitiveness is what is in the heads and in the hands of our population.

Many think of Norway as a country rich in natural resources such as oil and gas. On the contrary, I would say our most important resource is the knowledge in our population.

In fact, our Ministry of Finance has estimated that the present value of our future employment constitute 81 percent of our national wealth.

By comparison our petroleum assets are merely eight percent.

Then it goes without saying that we have everything to gain by cultivating our knowledge and skills.

If we are to take advantage of these knowledge resources it is crucial that we include the population at large regardless of age, culture and gender. 

The famous investor Warren Buffet once said that the secret behind his success was that he was only competing with half of the population, given the gender equality in the US at the time.

Since then, women’s entry into the work force has greatly contributed to the expansion of the world economy over the past decades.

I feel that I have more than enough backing to say that gender equality is a tool for growth, innovation and future success.

Over the past four decades, women’s participation in the workforce has increased substantially in Norway. This has been achieved through political will and measures. Examples are paid maternity leave and full day-care coverage.

Today, two-thirds of Norwegian women are employed.

Girls now outnumber boys at our universities and colleges.

 

It is a great pleasure for me coming to Japan to talk about these issues.

As you know, Japan and Norway have a long history as business and trading partners. In fact, Japan is one of our most important trading partners – not only in Asia, but altogether.

Since the fifties, we have agreed upon several bilateral agreements:
On commerce and trade, navigation and research – to name a few. 

And in recent years, our relationship has grown stronger.

It is a relationship of dialogue, friendship and frequent visits.

And as in all collaboration relationships and partnerships – we can take advantage of each other’s strengths and learn from each other.

And one area where I think – in all modesty – that Norway has a lot to offer is social inclusion and equality. From personal basis, having roots in two countries (Turkey and Norway), and from my experiences from Alarga, I would also like to underline the importance of having a multi-cultural approach.

 

Today we see Japan is taking important steps in harvesting the full potential of all of its population.

The female labor force in Japan is the most underutilized resource. Japan must become a place where women shine. I am determined to encourage women to break through the glass ceiling. I will prepare the architecture to make that possible”

These words were spoken by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Davos earlier this year.

We hope that the “Womenomics” efforts from the Abe-administration will bear fruits, and again, we will be more than happy to share our experiences.

 

On a final note, I look forward to the rest of this seminar.  To sum up some of the issues I have raised: If we are to compete in the globalized, knowledge intensive future markets, the full strength of our populations should be mobilized.

We are watching keenly the steps Japan is taking on this area.

As we continue to further the relationships between our nations, and between Japanese and Norwegian companies – I hope and believe that I will have the pleasure of working with increasing numbers of strong and competent Japanese women.

Domo arigatou gozaimashita [dååmåå arigatåå gåzaimasjta];

Thank you;