Interview: “When women are active participants in the labor market, it drives economic and business growth”
Nurtaç Ziyal Afridi is the Global CEO of GODIVA, a premium chocolate company owned by UN Women’s partner Yıldız Holding. Previously, she was an executive for global companies including Accenture and Arthur Andersen & Co. Afridi is a guest lecturer at the Bosphorus University as well as the Koc University in Istanbul. She sits on the Board of Directors of Yildiz Holding as well as many of its companies, including GODIVA, and the British Chamber of Commerce in Turkey. On the occasion of the Women’s Entrepreneurship EXPO 2022 and Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (19 November) we talked to Ms. Afridi about the role of the private sector in advancing women’s economic empowerment and the main challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Europe and Central Asia.
How has been your journey as a woman leader in the private sector?
My journey as a business leader began when I was very young, during a summer holiday when I was little. I started my own business selling beaded jewelry along a busy path to access a popular public beach. What began as a small venture evolved into my first independent business and my first taste of financial freedom. With some of my profits, I bought a special piece of jewelry – a gold bracelet. I still wear it as a reminder of where I started and how far I’ve come. Today, as the Global CEO of GODIVA, I continue to bet on myself as well as my global teams around the world, some of the most dedicated and passionate people I’ve ever met.
Based on your experience, how can the private sector advance gender equality and women’s empowerment?
I believe that the private sector has both an opportunity as well as a responsibility to advance gender equality and advocate for women’s empowerment. During a meeting between myself, UN Women’s leadership and other activists and officials working to advance gender equality around the world, I was proud to share that GODIVA is majority women-led, with women holding more that 50% of our managerial positions worldwide. This reflects a reality that many companies fail to embrace – that women make up half of our global economy and control or influence the vast majority of consumer spending. If you want to succeed as a global business, like GODIVA, you need women wherever decisions are being made. Ensure equitable opportunities to leadership roles, be aware of unconscious bias, eliminate obstacles that prevent women from achieving their full potential in business, and continue to challenge gender stereotypes.
Earlier this year, Yildiz Holding signed a partnership with UN Women to promote women’s entrepreneurship and gender responsive procurement. Why do you think this is important?
One of the reasons I’m so proud to be a part of Yildiz Holding is because they lead by example. As a global business with nearly 65,000 employees and more than 300 brands available in more than 120 countries, Yildiz Holding has a unique position and ability to drive significant positive change. Through this partnership with UN Women, Yildiz Holding is challenging the status quo of how businesses have been operating for generations. They’re identifying win-win opportunities, where female entrepreneurs or suppliers can be integrated into their global supply chain, helping women scale their business. At the same time, this work is also allowing Yildiz Holding to continue bringing innovative, new products to shelves. As someone who believes that when women thrive, our communities are stronger and more resilient, I hope that more businesses begin to adopt this strategy.
From your perspective, what are the main challenges to advance and expand women’s entrepreneurship in Europe and Central Asia?
We know that when women are active participants in the labor market, it drives economic and business growth. However, according to The World Bank, the global economy incurs significant costs by failing to take full advantage of women’s skills, experience, and productivity. The organization believes that global wealth could increase by as much as $160 trillion if women had a greater role in the economy, working in paid jobs and earning wages equal to those earned by men. To make this a reality, we must empower women, especially female entrepreneurs. At GODIVA, we do this, in part, through The Lady GODIVA Initiative, which rewards, uplifts, and recognizes organizations around the world that are helping to drive gender equity by supporting female entrepreneurs.
From a businesswoman perspective, what advice would you share with the women entrepreneurs participating in EXPO?
I would tell them to forge their own path, but also learn from as many people as possible along the way. I have found that learning never really stops, no matter how much experience or expertise you have. Each day will teach you something new, and some lessons are harder than others. To succeed, you must be resilient, have faith in yourself, and never give up on your dream. Shirley Chisholm, known for her outspoken advocacy for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, said it best - “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”