Remarks by ITC Executive Director at the “Trade for Her” conference (en)
Brussels, 30 September 2019
I would first like to thank Commissioner Malmström for hosting us here today. It is a pleasure to work with you and your team at DG Trade to strengthen the global agenda for trade and sustainable and inclusive development.
In today's event we want to spotlight the opportunities and challenges faced by women in trade. As an international community, we know by heart the headlines on the global gender divide in the economy - "progress towards gender parity has been slow" . "economic gender parity will take 202 years to achieve" . "advancing women's equality can add up to $28 trillion to global growth".
We may even know by heart the evidence used to explain this growing divide - "women experience more problems in accessing resources than their male counterparts" . "women-led companies are generally smaller than men-led companies".
However, when it comes to knowing and understanding the underlying reasons for the gender gap, and even more importantly, how to bridge it - we have far less to say. There is a reason the forecast of closing the gender divide is all of 202 years - it is a tremendously complex and layered problem to solve.
Through the innovative and in-depth study that we are launching today, the EU has taken a bold initiative to go beyond the headlines and to unpack these underlying reasons. Moving past rhetoric and grounded in the realities of selected sectors, this study takes us a step closer to understanding that gender inequalities in international trade are often the result of structural differences and goes beyond trade policy.
The EU has been a trailblazer in incorporating gender concerns in its trade policy. The evidence provided in this study will help EU policy makers to identify complementary policies and interventions.
For the global community, this study contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, which calls on countries to strengthen sound policies for the empowerment of all women; and to the WTO Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade spearheaded by ITC and the missions of Iceland and Sierra Leone to the WTO.
So, why is this study innovative? ITC surveyed more than 1000 firms across 12 EU countries. We focused on firms exporting outside the EU in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Through the survey, we addressed critical questions: are women and men equally represented in terms of business ownership, management and employment? What are women-led companies exporting, where and how? Which challenges do they face and do these challenges differ from men-led companies?
In doing so, our study shed light on both the gender and the trade dimension of exporting EU companies. A few highlight about the research we have conducted for the European Commission.
Women are largely under-represented in extra-EU trade. Only one in five exporting companies in the EU is led by a woman. In almost half of companies surveyed, women account for 30% or less of the total workforce.
Job segregation remains a reality. That's something we were able to confirm through this study. Less than one out of three companies reaches some level of gender equality in senior executive positions (at least 30%). Only few companies, mostly large-sized and women-led, have put in place policies to promote women employment.
Women-led companies tend to be smaller. Let's look at the size of company turnover. Among all the companies we surveyed, one out of 5 companies is women-led. But when we zoom on large companies, with more than €50 million turnover, it is very difficult to find women: only one of 10 companies is women-led.
Women-led companies are concentrated in industries with lower potential for export growth. For example, they are most present in the clothing industry but under-represented in the transport equipment one.
Size and industry explain inequalities further down the road. For example smaller firms find it very expensive to deal with Non-Tariff Measures because they have fewer staff and cannot outsource to consulting companies. Smaller firms also struggle to access information and qualify for government procurement markets outside the EU.
The study highlights challenges specific to women. Women-led companies are disadvantaged in accessing skills and financing from commercial banks. That's something new that we learnt from this study.
Women join chambers of commerce and industry associations, but find them less valuable than men. When asked to explain why, many say that 'old boys clubs' are still very important in their industries.
These challenges prevent women from achieving their full export potential. And the potential is there. Women-led companies actively target large markets, including emerging and developing economies. They are as active as men-led one in using online marketing, and even more likely to apply for funding to go global.
The good news in ITC's research is that women tend to open opportunities for women. Companies led by women are more likely to employ women senior executives as well as women workers. When a company department is headed by a woman, she will supervise more women. This is true also in production and R&D departments, which are usually male-dominated.
Before I conclude, let me share with you five key takeaways from the study:
First, we need to do more to get women to participate in international trade in the first place. Not only industries in which they currently operate but also in more dynamic industries with higher export potential. Most of the interventions required here are domestic. For example, they relate to family policies or education in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. Promoting the entry of women in dynamic sectors will have the largest impact on the reduction of gender disparities in extra-EU trade.
Second, some of the policy interventions required do not need to be targeting women specifically. By supporting SMEs, women-led companies are likely to benefit disproportionally because of their smaller size. For example helping SMEs to navigate non-tariff measures, or accessing procurement markets overseas. Policy-makers just need to make sure women take advantage of such programmes.
Third, sometimes gender-specific interventions are called for such as in access to finance. If we want to help women benefit more from industry associations or securing deals, policy makers may want to be inspired by targeted export promotion initiatives, like Canada or Malaysia have done. Interventions are also needed to move women up the corporate ladder. Many EU trade agreements include provisions for the protection of worker rights, but we should raise the level of ambition and look at measures to address vertical job segregation. This is particularly important because it can kick start a virtuous cycle, whereby women open employment opportunities for women.
Fourth, where is the voice of women entrepreneurs in Brussels? Women entrepreneurs may be well organised at the level of individual Member States but they need to ensure they are visible at the EU level. This is a call for action for many of the dynamic, ingenious women entrepreneurs I see between the public. DG Trade needs to hear your voice loud and clear.
Fifth and final takeway, this study opens up new questions for future surveys. Why are so few women entering trade in the first place? How are women participating in trade in services? Women are, after all, mostly found in the services sector.
Reflecting on these and other findings included in the study, I would like to conclude with this: at the end of the day, it is not just about trade measures but rather the measures that the trade community can take to better mainstream women in international trade.
Commissioner Malmström and I share a common commitment towards sustainable and inclusive trade.
Through the SheTrades Initiative, ITC is working to connect 3 million women to market by 2021. At the personal level, as Chair of the Board of the International Gender Champions, I am committed to scale up actions by the international community towards gender equality, well beyond trade.
DG Trade has been a committed partner in leveraging trade for women's advancement. The evidence speaks for itself: gender provisions in trade agreements, mainstreaming gender in Aid for Trade projects, and joining the Buenos Aires Declaration, among others. We are proud to team with you in these efforts and we appreciate the trust you have shown in us to implement this project. With all of this in mind, I am now looking forward to hearing from our distinguished panellists, and how we can take the learning and insights from this report to support and promote our GOOD TRADE FOR ALL which at the end of the day remains our unfinished business.