Empowering women in trade: resources, organizations, stars and success stories


Woman holding paper that says "Every Day is March 8"

Woman holding paper that says "Every Day is March 8"

Every year FITT likes to join the myriad of organizations marking International Women’s Day by taking the opportunity to discuss issues unique to women in global business.

With many countries promoting a progressive trade agenda and businesses and organizations working hard to get improve diversity and gender equality around the world, progress is definitely being made.

But are women truly feeling empowered? In this month’s #TradeElite Twitter chat, we asked the experts this and many other pointed questions to find out about the resources, organizations and individuals who are empowering women in international business. Follow the highlights below to see what they said.


Pamela Hyatt, (@Lyricsby Pam) Content Marketing Specialist, FITT , based in Ottawa, ON


Idalia Obregon (@Idalia_Obregon) Executive Director of BCCTC -British Canadian Chamber of Trade and Commerce (@BCCTC), based in Toronto, ON
Gaby Castro-Fontoura, (@uklatinamerica) Director of Sunny Sky Solutions, LATAM market expert, based in Montevideo, Uruguay
Marcela Mandeville, CITP (@MsBrightIdea) , CEO of @AWEbusiness (Alberta Women Entrepreneurs), based in Edmonton, AB
Bernadeen McLeod, (@Bernadeen) President & Founder of Mentor Works (@Mentor_Works) , based in the GTA, ON
Shannon Pestun, (@ShannonPestun) Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship at ATB Financial (@ATBFinancial), based in Calgary, AB
Kseniya Stogniy, CITP (@Kstogs) Export Advisor at Export Development Canada, based in Ottawa, ON

Let’s start by talking about where we’re at now.

Do we have gender equality in the international trade environment?

In the international trade environment, women entrepreneurs are still under represented. This continues to be a challenge for Canada and the world. While women are starting businesses at unprecedented rates, most women-led businesses aren’t engaging in trade activities. In Canada only 11% of exporting small and medium sized enterprises are women owned. – Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

Looks like we’ve got some work to do.

What are some of the biggest challenges unique to women in international business?

There are systemic and attitudinal barriers at play here. A lot of the challenges are faced by both men and women, however the impact is much deeper for women, especially around accessing the financial capital required and accessing the networks and supply chains needed to grow into new markets.  And the impact of cultural expectations and norms in different countries. – Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

Now for some good news. Where are we making progress on gender equity? Can we talk about some success?

  1. We’re seeing more collaboration within the entrepreneurial ecosystem of gov’t, education, industry and civil society. The spotlight on women’s entrepreneurship has never been brighter. Canada’s women’s entrepreneurship strategy is laying the foundation to double the number of women entrepreneurs by 2025 while helping more women scale their business through growth and export opportunities.
  2. More than ever, we’re seeing a gender lens applied to entrepreneurship from research to investing and financing to policy and strategy
  3. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, November 19th was officially proclaimed in the province of Alberta, and the cities of Calgary and Edmonton, signalling the importance of women’s entrepreneurship to our cities, communities and economy. More to come! – Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

Let’s keep the inspiration coming. Who are some of your women in trade role models?

Mary Ng, Jennifer Cooke and Kim Matheson of EDC, Stacey Gordon of ATB Financial and Lisa Christensen of BDC all come to mind for me. I chose them as role models for me because I’ve learned so much from each of them and I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with them on multiple projects. Our north star has always been guided by one question: how we  can better support women entrepreneurs? – Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

What are some organizations and resources designed to drive success for women in trade?

There are so many great organizations and under the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, we’ll soon have a mapping system that shows the full ecosystem. The organizations that come quickly to mind are, EDC, FITT, OWIT, Startup Canada, Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and WE Connect Canada. And we have a pretty great trade team at @ATB Financial who can help connect to each of these organizations. – Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

Is a progressive trade agenda working to make strides in gender equity for women along the global value chain?

Progress has been slow, and without question there’s still a lot of work ahead to close the gender gap. Each of us has an opportunity to help support a progressive trade agenda, and create more opportunities for women to reach their full entrepreneurial potential at home and around the world. The more we do to advance and advocate for an inclusive trade environment, the quicker we’ll see the social and economic benefits flow.- Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

How can we as individuals help support women in global trade?

We can help individuals by breaking myths around exporting (myths like, I’m too small to export, my product is too hard to sell in another market, it’s too risky or too complicated, you can’t export services), creating meaningful education around trade, and providing  more opportunities for women to connect to other women exporters and influencer groups such as the TCS, EDC. – Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

Do you feel personally empowered to do what you do best in international trade?

When you see an opportunity to make a difference,  it’s very empowering. The best part of this journey for me as the head of ATB Financial’s women’s entrepreneurship strategy and as a member of Canada’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy Panel has been working with women entrepreneur champions from across the country,  and from across disciplines and sectors to leverage our collective experience and expertise, and find a common voice to help more women take their businesses to a global stage. Together, we are making a difference and in many ways it feels like we’re just getting started. – Shannon Pestun @ShannonPestun

Read the rest of the chat and join future discussions by following the #TradeElite hashtag. And stay tuned for the next #TradeElite chat, coming up Thursday, April 16 at 2:00-3:00PM ET, and if you haven’t yet, join us on Twitter at @FITTNews.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing participants, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Pamela Hyatt

I am the Content Marketing Specialist for the Forum for International Trade Training (FITT). You can find some of my work on TradeReady.ca. My background is in copywriting, journalism and social media. My passion lies in connecting people to the stories that are most important to them.

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