Roundtable on Policies and Best Practices in Gender and Trade

Held:            April 12, 2013

Location:       Ontario Investment & Trade Centre, Toronto


  • Mary Anderson, President, WEConnect Canada
  • Maria Arbulu, Senior Marketing Specialist, Foreign Agricultural Service/ United States Department of Agriculture
  • Joy Nott, President, I.E.Canada (Canadian Association of Importers &   Exporters)

Networking with a group of Colombian and Peruvian policy makers and representatives of private sector associations was one of the highlights of this spring roundtable, co-hosted by OWIT-Toronto and the North-South Institute (NSI). Based in Ottawa, NSI is a non profit that conducts research, including gender research, related to international development.

“It has been a very interesting process of learning for all of us in the delegation,” said Paola Ortiz, Project Coordinator, NSI, on behalf of the delegation of 10 from South America that visited Ottawa and Toronto. They included representatives from associations of coffee growers, cocoa growers and small and medium sized businesses.  The event was an excellent opportunity to make global connections that can lead to doing business across borders.

Here are some of the key messages from the seasoned panelists who relayed their experiences as women in international trade and shared best practices related to the economic empowerment of women in Canada:

Mary Anderson

  • Many women begin businesses but are challenged in growing them. WEConnect Canada is a tool to help fill this entrepreneurial gap. It is a certification program for established companies that sell business to business and that have a product or service that fits with the large global economy. The certification qualifies them for supplier diversity programs, something well established in the U.S. but new in other countries like Canada.
  • Tips from those who have successfully used certification to grow include:
    • Think big!
    • Build a public profile to showcase your capabilities.
    • Establish a network, ask others for help and articulate what you need.
    • Become financially solid.
  • Women often experience huge empowerment when they think beyond Canada’s borders. Being prepared and developing a follow up strategy are keys to success in international trade.
  • Choose your life partner well; if you have aspirations in business, you need people close to you who will support your goals, not inhibit them.

Maria Arbulu

  • In order to grow, you must be able to let go of control.
  • Gender differences do exist in business. Men tend to be better at formally and informally mentoring each other. Women should do this more… and more informally.
  • Although a mentor can be of either sex, what is important is to ensure the right fit. It may even make sense to have more than one mentor.
  • Sometimes women’s passion for what they do is confused with emotion. It’s good to channel the passion into continuous learning.
  • In cultures where it’s not always acceptable for women to grow big businesses, a persuasive argument in favour can be made by demonstrating the economic benefit to the household. 

Joy Nott

  • At least half of all leadership roles in the trade service provider world are held by women now, which is very different than 30 years ago, when those roles were simply not held by women. Although women in trade have come a long way, there is still work to be done.
  • Tips:
    • When negotiating, have more confidence and learn to say no.
    • Build a great team if you want to be a great leader. Don’t try to do it all alone.
    • Surround yourself with networks like OWIT and WEConnect. Don’t be bashful; ask for favours. 
    • Hire service providers in the early stages when starting a business in order to help you grow.
  • This is a moment in history when the old rules no longer apply. Professional designations are not necessarily a golden ticket now. You no longer need an MBA to be successful. A good product or service and passion are more important.

    By Susan Baka, VP Communications

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