Name: Claudia Linke-Heep
Country of origin: Germany
Job position: Deputy Representative and Liaison Officer, UNIDO
Location: New York City
Years of work experience: 20+ years of experience in inclusive and sustainable industrial development projects
Highest Education: MSc. Economics
UNIDO is committed to promoting gender equality and the economic empowerment of women. This approach is central to our work because it is not only a matter of human rights but is also a precondition for sustainable development. When women and men are more equal, prosperity generated by productive activities is shared, more people are lifted out of poverty and the overall well-being of societies is enhanced.
When it comes to industrial development, we like to say: ‘Gender equality and the empowerment of women are not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do.’ For all businesses – not just those in manufacturing - a lack of gender diversity carries can be very detrimental.
Diverse teams, including those with greater gender diversity, are on average more creative, innovative, and, ultimately, are associated with greater profitability. Across sectors and geographies, we can see a strong positive correlation between higher levels of employee diversity and stronger financial performance.
I worked in UNIDO’s Energy Division for several years. One of our areas of focus was on improving access to affordable and non-polluting energy services because this is a prerequisite for achieving economic empowerment and poverty reduction. It is clear that poor access to energy limits economic opportunities for women and also has considerable negative effects on their families and communities. For example, without access to modern energy services, rural women and girls in particular have to spend long and exhausting hours performing basic subsistence tasks, including the time-consuming and physically draining task of collecting biomass fuels. This makes is hard for them to get an education or access decent jobs, as well as limiting their options for social and political interaction outside the household.
Many of our energy projects support the use of locally available renewable energy sources for productive uses and some of these provide opportunities for women’s entrepreneurship. For example, one UNIDO project in the town of Tunjeren in the Republic of Gambia helped a non-governmental organization to install solar panels at a training centre and so end dependence on an unreliable grid supply. The young women attending the centre were able to attend a range of vocational training courses that previously were unavailable because of power outages. The project also trained a group of young women to design, install and maintain PV standalone systems. This broke local stereotypes about jobs that men and women could do and enabled the women to find paid employment as solar system installers.
More recently, I worked to establish the Green Industry Platform, a joint initiative between UNIDO and UN Environment to catalyze, mobilize and mainstream action in support of the Green Industry agenda, which in essence means greening the manufacturing process and creating green industries for the production of goods and services for domestic use or export.
Female role models need to be visible at all levels because it is easier to aspire to what you can see. As part of this initiative, I worked with women entrepreneurs and businesswomen, promoting their success as a way to support other women entrepreneurs in their decision-making processes to overcome challenges and grow their businesses.
I met many inspiring women, and I’ll mention just two as examples.
- Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu founded a footwear company, SoleRebels, in 2004 in a poor community on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Today, her company, which makes shoes out of recycled materials, is thriving with sales in 55 countries across the world.
- Chen Chunhong is the CEO of the Yiyuan Environmental Group, based in Shanghai, China. Her company manufactures and markets toilets designed to avoid cross-contamination and whose patented technology can save up to 83% of water compared with conventional 6-litre models.
The point of sharing these and other women’s stories was to empower more women to take leadership roles in green industries as entrepreneurs or industrial professionals, and it gave rise to a current programme which I helped set up together with colleagues in UN Women. The Economic Empowerment of Women in Green Industry Programme is advising policymakers and practitioners on the establishment and implementation of a policy framework to integrate gender and green industrial policies. The aim is to enable countries to formulate new, or reformulate existing, gender-responsive green industrial policies and adopt them; to strengthen individual and institutional capacities for policy formulation and implementation at national and global levels, and to improve the knowledge base on gender and green industrial policies.
Now I am working in UNIDO’s New York office, liaising with counterparts from other entities in the UN system and with representatives of our member states. Gender is mainstreamed into my work. With the ambassadors and other diplomats there is great interest in the transformation underway with the fourth industrial revolution. Rapid technological advances and the convergence of physical and digital manufacturing are changing the way manufacturers operate, and companies are going to need employees with a different skillsets. Indeed, talent at all levels is becoming a key to manufacturing competitiveness.
I am referring to research that shows that gender diversity benefits manufacturing businesses through improved ability to innovate, a higher return on equity and increased profitability. There is a direct correlation between diversity/inclusion and profitability, including the speed and type of innovation, and diversity of thought. I point out that gender diverse leadership groups encourage broader strategic thinking, and together, these teams can tackle issues more effectively.