Of Moroccan descent, Ms. Gardner is one of the most prominent senior women in the financial industry and has been an industry leader for more than two decades, serving as President of a multi-billion global alternative investment fund. of dollars based in New York. She pledged to use her new role as UNCDF’s first-ever goodwill ambassador to promote opportunities and resources for women entrepreneurs and improve the living standards of underserved communities.
UN News: Why is it important to help more women access finance?
Sonia Gardner: First, finance can play an important role in facilitating economic growth in the world’s poorest countries and this, in turn, can improve the investment climate and the standard of living of underserved women in these communities.
Separately, women have traditionally faced many obstacles in building their careers in the financial industry. For example, in some areas of finance, the percentage of women in C-Suites (senior executives) is less than 10%, and gender inequality tends to increase as one moves up. the career ladder, especially as many women drop out of middle management for various reasons.
These are the types of challenges that I hope to help overcome as a UNCDF Goodwill Ambassador. I am truly honored and humbled to serve in this role.
UN News: What are some of the challenges women face?
Sonia Gardner: I think one of the biggest challenges women face is still unequal treatment in the workplace. Since I entered the workforce 30 years ago, there have been improvements, but much remains to be done to eliminate systemic inequalities.
In 1986, I entered the world of finance and started a business in close collaboration with my brother. Partly because of this, I haven’t faced the same challenges many women in our industry have faced as they’ve climbed the corporate ladder or reached the glass ceiling. I faced different challenges; at the top of the list was the experience of being the only senior woman in the room on too many occasions over the past 30 years.
Much has been written about how to tackle the problem of systemic inequalities, and while some progress has been made over the years, there is still a long way to go to increase the number of senior women in finance. As you can imagine, gender inequality in the least developed countries (LDCs) is a much bigger problem.
UN News: As a goodwill ambassador, who are you advocating for?
Sonia Gardner: My favorite field is gender equality in the 46 least developed countries that strive to give women access to economic resources. These women from LDCs need capital to start and develop businesses and provide a means of lifting their families out of poverty.
I absolutely believe that most men and women see that change is necessary. Women in LDCs are particularly underserved and vulnerable.
UN News: Why are you so passionate about this issue?
Sonia Gardner: This question is crucial for me because the inequalities are so glaring and so few women experience financial inclusion.
My personal journey has helped me shape my point of view. I was born in Morocco and when I was four I immigrated to the United States with my family. I grew up in a small two bedroom apartment and have shared a room with my brother and sister for many years.
My parents came here with next to nothing, and their main goal was for us to have a good education. They made incredible sacrifices and we all went to college and law school on scholarships and loans. I am grateful every day for the success I have had over the years and believe that giving back is essential to anyone’s success. I truly lived the American dream.
Despite my modest education, I have had many opportunities in my life that have helped me be successful. I want to volunteer my time and use my voice to help improve the lives of women in LDCs because this is one of the areas where I see the greatest need right now.
UN News: What will you do to make changes and make it easier for women to access finance?
Sonia Gardner: Last year I got to meet Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the amazing mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Since I met the mayor at an event at the United Nations General Assembly, I have helped her build an early learning center at the Congo Water Market in Freetown, for 40 children. preschoolers aged one to five. A second center for 40 additional children will be built later this year.
These centers will enable women working in the market to give their children a head start on quality education.
I look forward to expanding this kind of support, for UNCDF to ensure that finance benefits the poor and helps achieve the SDGs.
In much of the world, women are the providers. Like the women traders in Sierra Leone, they earn money and support their families every day. It is very difficult for them to get funding, support or even child care. I am planning my first trip to Sierra Leone, which I hope will be in the fall to visit child care centers and see firsthand the positive change for these market women and their children.
UN News: What do your peers think of this male-dominated industry about your appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador?
Sonia Gardner: My peers are very excited that I am taking on this role and have been very supportive of me. They agree that we need to improve the pipeline and build a system that supports women, in order to eliminate the systemic inequality that women traditionally face.
Studies have shown that because mentoring for young women is so important, both older women and men need to be involved. I’ve seen it in my work as president of 100 Women in Finance, which does important work with its NextGen program. My hope is to create a network of my peers, men and women, who will mentor women in the least developed countries and help find solutions to lift them out of poverty.