Tuesday, May 5, 2020, 3:00 p.m.
Delivered (virtually on CrowdCast)
Thank you, Stella, and thank you for putting this event together. I want to start first of all by saying thank you to Maria Syrengela, the Secretary General, for joining us today. I think it’s really important that we have this signal of support from the Greek government. But I also want to say huge thanks to you, to Pinelope, to the team at Women on Top, our partners at Lean in Hellas, and Women Act, and then of course Yanni and Symeon at the Delphi Forum for putting this all together. Also very grateful to see a great American company, Coca Cola 3E, signing up as a sponsor of this event.
When we started talking about doing this, of course, we hoped that we would be doing it live and in person in Delphi. This hasn’t happened, but I’m really glad they were able to use these technology tools to put the event together and to push forward this really important conversation.
For me, I remember back in January, which seems like a lifetime ago now, but back in January, before the lockdown and before social distancing, I had a reception at my Residence for some of the alumni of our exchange programs. And one of the guests there was a young woman who I had met a year or two ago, Alexandra from Ioannina, who was one of our Benjamin Franklin fellows. So this is a young, secondary school-age student who had traveled to the United States. And I remembered when I first met her and her parents there in Ioannina, she was a typical young woman, very nervous about travelling so far away from her parents for the first time. Her mother was even more concerned about what was going to happen to her in the United States. But when she came back, and it had been a transformative experience, and I asked her at one point, “What do you want to do with yourself now?” And she said in all seriousness said to me, “I want to be the Prime Minister of Greece one day.” And for me, I found that fantastically encouraging, and it was a reminder of how important it is for all of us to work together to ensure that these promising young people, especially promising young women, are able to fulfill their full capacities.
From a U.S. government standpoint, we’ve been working hard on this area. The Trump administration has launched what we call the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which has committed to reach 50 million women through the year 2025 through U.S. government activities, private-sector programs, and new exchanges that are designed to help identify talented women around the world and help them succeed in the world of business.
Here in Greece, these issues have been part of our public affairs programming for a very long time. We regularly collaborate with civil society, business, and educational institutions, working towards best practices on inclusive leadership, trying to figure out how we can help the women’s empowerment ecosystem in Greece to grow.
But I also recognize that this is not always easy. I remember in 2018, I did an evening discussion here in Athens with a group of women working in the energy sector. They were all incredibly smart, asked really good questions, very confident presenters of their perspectives, and they came from academia, from the private sector, from companies. And I found myself asking, “Where are all of these women when I go to all of these energy conferences and I speak on one panel after another with just men?”
It was a really important reminder to me that we have to keep working and pushing on these issues. I remember last fall at the Thessaloniki International Fair, I was really delighted to join Mareva Mitsotaki and some of the other folks from the women’s empowerment community, launching their efforts in Thessaloniki, which is a more conservative city and a more challenging operating environment. But I also saw their sense of passion and mission, which is so important.
I was very glad in October when we had Secretary of State Pompeo here for the second round of the U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue, that both of our governments recommitted themselves to working on women’s economic empowerment together.
I was also, like so many people in Greece, fantastically encouraged when Greece elected its first woman president. I was even more honored when, just a few weeks after taking office, I was able to have an introductory video call with President
Sakellaropoulou. And we talked about her famous Ruth Bader Ginsberg coffee mug that was on her desk with one of our great icons of women’s empowerment in the United States. And it was a reminder to me that even at these most senior levels, pioneering women can inspire each other. And I think that’s a really important lesson to all of us, and I know that the President of the Hellenic Republic has already become an icon for many Greek women who are committed to excelling in politics and business and civil society. So this is an emerging story in Greece, as it is in the United States.
I think that the strong support for the President when she was voted through the Hellenic Parliament is a reminder that this is an issue that is not gender specific, that men and women have to work together to advance this agenda of women’s empowerment. And that closing the gender gap in representation, in participation in leadership, is both crucial to the health of our democracies, but it also helps foster growth. It produces better decisions. I have seen that over and over through the course of my career, how having a seat at the table for both sides of the gender equation is important to rounding out perspectives, to presenting alternatives, and ultimately developing smarter decision making. So this is an issue of how to optimize outcomes. It’s not a matter of satisfying quotas, it’s a matter of delivering better results for our societies and our democracies.
At the Embassy, we’ve made a consistent effort to try to ensure that there’s strong women’s representation in all of our programs, including educational exchanges and public events. We’re committed to continuing to work on this agenda, working with partners like all of you today. And again, I was really delighted when Symeon and I first started talking about this, when we agreed to do the Inclusivity Lounge at Delphi. I hope very much that this can become a permanent part of the Delphi Forum, and that we’ll see it not just here online today, but live and in person in the future.
So that’s why I’m so excited about this event today. There’s some terrifically impressive speakers. I look forward to hearing what they all have to say. I also promise that this conversation will inform what we’re doing at the Embassy as we move forward. We’re going to continue to program and work in this area. We have plans at the Thessaloniki International Fair this fall to have a TechCamp
focused on women’s entrepreneurship, offering skills training to women from the startup community who are trying to get their businesses growing. And I have met at this point in my time in Greece dozens and dozens of fantastically impressive young Greek women entrepreneurs. I know how much capacity there is in the Greek economy waiting to be capitalized on. We’re also committed to continuing to work on issues of gender equality in our educational programs. Again, exchanging experiences from the United States, where we are far from perfect on these issues, where similarly, we have to push against gender stereotypes and traditional ways of doing things, but also assumptions, which can be so pernicious.
Now I’m the father of a young woman, a 26-year-old who’s only recently started her professional career. I see how important these issues are to her future, so for me, this is much more than just a question of policy. It’s a question of what kind of world we are going to leave to our children, how to ensure that all of the capacities that society possesses are brought to bear on the challenges that we face. There’s no bigger challenge today, of course, than this coronavirus. I remember a couple of years ago when I was out at Patras, at Patras University. And visiting some of the academic departments there. I was impressed and surprised to discover that the majority of the scientists and the senior researchers in the pharmaceutical school and that part of the chemistry and medical faculties were women. And they were all fantastically capable. There were a couple of labs that were almost entirely women, and then somebody explained to me that this is one of the professional areas that traditionally has been more open to Greek women. So I’m hopeful now that as the world’s attention turns to the challenge of coronavirus and pandemic disease, that this will create new opportunities and that Greek women will continue to play a leading role in this area as well.
I know as a father that no parent wants their daughter to grow up in an environment in which she faces greater hurdles than a son to creating the world that she’s going to live in. I have enormous expectations for my own daughter and for the kind of impact that she’s going to make in her life, in her professional business career, and I’m very, very proud of what she’s already accomplished. But I also recognize that a lot of things that my son deals with are that much more difficult for my daughter as a young woman getting her start.
So I hope you all will consider me your ally in working on these issues, promoting inclusivity and gender balance as we move ahead and as we enter a new period of international challenges, but also the work that we do together. So again, thank you so much to Stella for orchestrating all of this and for giving me a chance to share some perspectives. And I very much look forward to hearing the conversation this afternoon. Thanks.