“Our top priority is to enhance the presence and representation of women at all levels within DEİK”

We engaged in a conversation about women’s positions in the business realm with Ebru Özdemir, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Limak Holding, Member of the Board of Directors of DEİK, Chairperson of DEİK/Türkiye-Spain Business Council, and Chairperson of the DEİK Women’s Platform, which was established in March.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFICULTIES YOU AND WOMEN IN GENERAL FACE IN WORKING LIFE?

Challenging prejudices can be quite daunting. To combat stereotypes and perceptions like “business life is tough, women can’t handle it”. By fundamentally altering this perception, I feel confident women can attain the rightful place they deserve in the business world. Hence, I envision equal opportunities emerging at the intersection of business, development, and sustainability. There is a significant movement in this field both in Türkiye and globally. However, we still have a considerable journey ahead of us. According to the 2023 Global Gender Equality Report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), if the current momentum for equal opportunities persists, it will require 131 years to close the global opportunity gap. Waiting over a century for equal opportunities is a luxury none of us can afford. Women must shatter glass ceilings across every sector as swiftly as possible. It is crucial to integrate women into the economy, development, and value-creation processes.

HOW HAS YOUR AWARENESS OF THE PLACE OF WOMEN IN BUSINESS LIFE AND SOCIETY DEVELOPED FROM THE PAST TO THE PRESENT? WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE ADVOCACY OF THIS ISSUE?

As a female engineer and manager, I have always been passionate about this issue. I also consider it a personal responsibility. In both my company and the non-governmental organizations I am involved in, I actively support efforts to raise awareness in this field. I believe that by continually discussing this issue and reiterating the figures, we can significantly contribute to change and transformation.

WHAT ARE THE STEPS TO BE TAKEN TO ENSURE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES IN THE BUSINESS WORLD?

Both individuals and organizations must take steps to achieve this goal. First of all, being a role model is very important. Another crucial action is to unite. As women in the workforce, fostering a spirit of “sisterhood” is crucial. I believe it is essential to cultivate this among women, both employees and managers. This is also vital for female candidates entering the workforce. Lastly, we must advocate and demonstrate leadership in defending this issue, charting a course for progress. We must prioritize bringing this issue to the agenda and tirelessly repeat the figures to drive awareness and change. We must fulfil this duty not only for ourselves but also for the next generation of female employees.

NOW, LET US DISCUSS THE DEİK WOMEN’S PLATFORM. YOU LAUNCHED THE PLATFORM IN MARCH. IT ALSO WAS PRECEDED BY SIGNIFICANT GROUNDWORK AND EFFORT. CAN YOU SHARE WITH US HOW THIS POINT WAS REACHED?

As a longstanding businesswoman serving as a Board Member and Business Council Chairperson under DEİK, I recognized the absence of a women-specific organization. We gathered with like-minded people. We started working with a group of Business Council Chairpersons and our secretariat. Don’t we undertake dozens of projects and initiatives within the scope of women’s empowerment and women’s labour in our own companies? Yes, we do. We then began to seek answers to the question “What can we do?” by harnessing collective wisdom and unity of effort for DEİK, to which we volunteered our labour. First, we made a situation assessment. In fact, since we commenced our work, we have unfortunately realized that we have lagged behind the current situation during this time. The number of women Business Council Chairpersons has decreased from 14 at our initial meeting in January 2023 to 12 as of March 2024. As of March 2024, only 227 members, constituting 10.5 per cent, of the 2,168 Executive Board members are women. Therefore, our top priority is to enhance the presence and representation of women at all levels within DEİK, including DEİK members, Business Council Executive Board members, Executive Board Chairpersons, and Vice Chairpersons.

WHICH ISSUES AND AREAS DO YOU PRIORITISE AS A PLATFORM?

I would like to reiterate that this platform was established to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of women and to augment their representation within DEİK, our country’s commercial diplomacy institution. In this context, our primary objective is to ensure that each Business Council’s Executive Board includes at least one female member. We have decided that this recommendation, which will be communicated to all our Business Councils at this stage, will become mandatory for all councils at the next Elective General Assembly of Business Councils. Additionally, to incentivize this decision, it was agreed to incorporate the title of “women” into the performance criteria within the Business Councils’ performance system.

This will include factors such as the number of active women members in the councils and the number of activities organized by the councils for women among the evaluation criteria. We also recognized the importance of addressing membership from a women’s perspective. Within this framework, we have decided that member companies with more than 5 representatives in DEİK must include at least 1 senior female executive, while member companies with more than 10 representatives must include at least 2 senior female executives. In return, the respective Business Council membership fee will not be charged for one year. Furthermore, we have decided to offer a 50 per cent discount on DEİK dues and a 30 per cent discount on Business Council membership dues for one year to women entrepreneurs who qualify for new membership. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, it is crucial to lead by example and serve as role models. It is important to advocate the cause.

To this end, we have decided to present awards in categories that encourage women to actively participate in the business world every 8th of March, International Women’s Day. The decisions taken were approved during the Board of Directors meeting held on February 19, 2024. I would like to extend special thanks to our Chairperson and Board of Directors for their invaluable support.

WHAT STEPS DO YOU PLAN TO TAKE AS A PLATFORM IN THE FUTURE?

On March 7, we officially launched the DEİK Women’s Platform with the participation of Minister of Family and Social Services Mahinur Özdemir Göktaş and Chairman of the Board of Directors Nail Olpak. We brought together women Business Council Chairpersons, Vice Chairpersons, members, and professionals working in this field from across our country. We are now planning to organise a workshop. We plan to organize a workshop where we will collectively discuss this issue and establish our strategy, goals, roadmap, and management structure.