Women's economic empowerment has been a key pillar of Apec's work, and since New Zealand last hosted Apec two decades ago, has made significant gains.
Economies across Apec have worked together to promote those with "untapped economic potential" — people who have faced barriers to full economic participation — to provide the energy and vision for future growth.
A key focus of this work has been addressing the structures that hold back women's full economic participation. While there is still significant progress to be made, as this year's host New Zealand is leading the way with three women — Andrea Smith, Barbara Chapman, and Rachel Taulelei — holding pivotal roles to deliver the year's event.
One of the key diplomats leading New Zealand's year as Apec host is Andrea Smith, Apec deputy secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
She has been in the role since 2017, and in that time has seen events that have put New Zealand's hosting of Apec at risk — including the fire at the Sky City International Convention Centre fire where the CEO Summit was originally to be held, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which ground travel to a halt and forced Apec to go fully virtual.
Smith says that as host, New Zealand is at the leading edge of shaping the agenda for the Asia-Pacific and has "skin in the game".
"Fourteen of our top 20 export markets are Apec members, including the three largest economies in the world — the United States, China and Japan — and 18 of our 19 free trade agreements are with Apec partners." says Smith.
"Trade between Apec economies is now eight times greater than it was in 1989; average incomes in the region have more than doubled."
Smith says she will have done her job if the virtual host year of Apec runs well, with the delegates able to focus not on the technology or the virtual aspects but "if they are able to focus on the business of Apec and the issues they have to address, like Covid-19, where Apec has a considerable role to play".
Chair of the Apec CEO Summit, Barbara Chapman is also chair of Genesis Energy and NZME, publisher of the New Zealand Herald, an independent director of Fletcher Building, a member of the independent expert advisory panel for the New Zealand Reserve Bank Act review and a previous member of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council. She was previously CEO and managing director of ASB Bank, before retiring from her executive career.
Chapman says the summit is a great opportunity for New Zealand to showcase how adaptable it is, and for businesses to connect with each other.
"Given the many challenges that businesses in New Zealand and around the Apec economies are facing, it would be easy to dismiss this opportunity and focus on the day-to-day issues.
"But given the critical need for international connections, trade pathways, and digital technology to revive and repair some of the Covid-damaged parts of our economies and our trading networks, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for New Zealand businesses, organisations and individuals to hear from the world's leading thinkers and be part of these important conversations."
Co-founder of business design and brand strategy firm Oho, Rachel Taulelei is New Zealand's lead representative and 2021 chair of the Apec business advisory council (Abac).
A prominent business leader, Taulelei is a strong advocate for the Māori economy and sustainability in the food and beverage sector.
Taulelei says if there was ever a time for the conversations that New Zealand's host year allows, it is surely now, when the continuing challenge of the pandemic requires a co-ordinated, collective response.
"When it comes to finding the solutions for overcoming the health crisis, getting back into growth mode and addressing long term structural issues like sustainability, digitalisation and inclusion, Abac ensures the voice of business is heard," she says.
For Taulelei, this means putting people at the centre of everything we do.
"We need to do so in a way that respects and preserves the environment in which we live. And we have to continue to have regard for continuing to advance economic well-being," she says.
At this week's CEO Summit, Taulelei will be speaking on a panel about sustainability, and the areas the Apec region should be thinking about and working together on to tackle the environmental crisis, address climate change, and foster green, resilient and inclusive growth.
Women and the economy
Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted women's employment. At the same time, a significant amount of the essential work and caring responsibilities during the pandemic have been carried out by women.
Advancing women's empowerment is an important part of Apec's goal to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth across the Asia Pacific region. Earlier this year, Apec held a Women and the Economy Forum, to address outstanding issues for women and girls across the region as it recovers from the pandemic.
The forum brought together Ministers and representatives from 21 economies. They issued a statement to prioritise implementation of the La Serena Roadmap (Apec's action plan on women's economic empowerment agreed in 2019), gender responsive policies for recovery from the pandemic and ensuring a sustainable, resilient recovery for women and girls.
Following the forum, Minister for Women Jan Tinetti said:
"Some key issues we've identified include women's representation in trade, changes to address gender pay gaps and occupational segregation, the disproportionate share of care work undertaken by women and girls, equal access to digital skill training and financial literacy and gender-based violence...
"We are committed to further improving the lives of women and girls in Aotearoa NZ. Our focus includes developing a Women's Employment Action Plan to support women to build back better after the pandemic, women in leadership, closing the gender pay gap, safety from family and sexual violence and improving outcomes for wāhine Māori.
• In the Apec region, 77 women are working for every 100 men. In the rest of the world it is 67 women for every 100 men. No economy has top female managers in more than 30 per cent of firms