Fortune 500 women CEOs stand up to Turkish leaders by Nina Easton @FortuneMagazine October 3, 2014, 7:31 AM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Picture this: A room full of Turkish top executives and government officials, and not a skirt to be seen. In walks an American delegation of nine. Five of them are women—and not just any women. We’re talking the CEOs of Fortune 500 giants Xerox XRX , Archer Daniels Midland ADM , and Lockheed Martin LMT , along with the chief of agricultural equipment maker Vermeer Corp. and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. “We forget—we’re an oddity,” Xerox chief Ursula Burns, who’s No. 17 on the 2014 Fortune Most Powerful Women in Business list, tells me by phone from a plane on the Ankara tarmac. “It’s a man’s world here. You may see one woman [in official meetings], or none at all.” Burns, ADM’s Pat Woertz, Lockheed’s Marillyn Hewson, Vermeer’s Mary Andringa—along with UPS’s UPS David Abney, Carpenter & Co.’s Dick Friedman, Marriott’s MAR Arne Sorenson, and 32 Advisors CEO Robert Wolf—were in Turkey this week to promote trade and investment as part of President Obama’s Export Council. Their trip, which also included a stop in Poland, had been on the books for months—well before Turkey’s seeming ambivalence about confronting the terror group ISIS complicated already strained relations with the U.S (though Turkish lawmakers approved military action against ISIS Thursday). There was much said during these high-level meetings—and much left unsaid. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker called on Turkish officials to level the playing field for foreign companies eager to bid on the boom in Turkish infrastructure projects, especially in aerospace and transportation. She also criticized Turkey’s “commercial offsets” in health care, medical devices and commercial aircraft. “This policy, which forces companies to produce locally, is an impediment to American and foreign firms” wanting to access the Turkish market, she warned. As vice chair of the export council, Xerox’s Burns was cautiously optimistic that the U.S. reps’ message got through. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she says. “I don’t think we’re going to see the entire economy open up to U.S. business the next day, but I’m pretty confident there will be progressive steps.” This week Xerox celebrated its 25th year operating inside Turkey. But the Americans stayed away from more politically charged topics. After a year in which newly re-elected Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan cracked down on social media sites Twitter TWTR and Facebook FB , previously safe places for the country’s protesters to voice their dissent, Human Rights Watch warned of Turkey’s “drift toward authoritarianism.” “We come at it sideways,” explains Burns. “Economic vitality pushes things toward the center and people have a bigger voice…Good habits actually get implanted in these countries.“ Also left unsaid: If Turkey really wants to meet Erdoğan’s goal of joining the world’s 10 largest economies by 2023, it requires more than added trade and investment relations with the U.S. Economic growth will require Turkey’s mostly male business leaders to focus on a mostly untapped talent pool: women. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 gender gap report ranks Turkey at 120—near the bottom of the globe—when it comes to empowering women. A World Bank report notes that only a quarter of Turkish women are employed and “women working in offices is a rare sight” –even though Turkey is the 16th largest economy in the world. “If you leave out 50% of workforce, it’s not a smart economic move,” says Burns. No, Burns and her co-horts did not make this point directly to the Turkish executives they met. Perhaps they thought that the jarring image of American women running Fortune 500 companies—and standing up to global leaders—would speak for itself. “From the MPW Co-chairs” is a daily series where the editors who oversee the Fortune Most Powerful Women brand share their insights about women leaders.