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As the readers of Trade Finance Global (TFG) know, March is International Women’s Month. This month, the world is highlighting women across the globe and all industries.
Throughout the month, TFG has heard numerous personal stories, outlining what it is like to be a woman in the workplace in 2023, giving examples of how far the world has come, and pointing out the areas which need improvement.
Furthermore, many of the women involved in our campaign pointed out that studying data and statistics are a vital part of elevating women in the workplace. Many studies have shown that if women are given equal access, they elevate themselves and their community.
BCG and the S&P 500 released studies showing that companies with higher diversity numbers outperform the market and grow at higher rates than competitors.
These personal stories and numbers are an important part of supporting women in the workplace, but the campaign needs a widespread, collective effort to succeed.
The Government of Canada and Export Development Canada (EDC) understand the task ahead and are spearheading the effort to champion women globally.
TFG spoke to the Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development to discuss the Canadian government’s role in international trade and supporting women in the workplace.
Access to capital: a path to equity?
Starting a business from scratch is difficult. While this varies depending on which country the owner lives in, the point remains the same, the barrier to entry is high.
Minister Ng said, “one of the top issues that we hear from women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses is the ability to get access to capital.”
This is why Canada is focusing on providing financing and insurance to women-owned businesses operating within Canada but who are also looking to expand beyond the border.
Minister Ng leads the Canadian Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) program and has tasked the program with increasing funding by $25 million in the coming years. Since its inception, WES has helped over 10,000 women start their own businesses, and over 12,000 women grow their businesses.
Canada’s strategy is not only a moral one, it will provide a massive return on investment for the Canadian economy.
But the benefits don’t stop at the Canadian border, which is why Minister Ng is approaching other trade ministers to join her on this mission.
Minister Ng said, “I tell my colleagues around the world, trade ministers around the world, let’s do this together. Because if we do this together, it’s $12 trillion to the global economy by doing one thing. Empowering women so that they can take more space in our respective economies.”
Working with other countries and expanding relationships with foreign trade ministers is a vital part of the Minister Ng’s mission. According to Minister Ng, Canada has “very competitive free trade agreements around the world, accessing over 60% of the global economy” and is currently negotiating with India and the ASEAN countries.
When asked about Canada’s current trade outlook, Minister Ng summarised it as fighting “climate change, transitioning our economies into the net zero economies of the future, creating those jobs for those workers in the economy. That’s really important. Continuing to diversify, growing our trade relationships, continue to negotiate their agreements.”
Canada – UK Free Trade Agreement: new ideas for an old partnership
Canada and the UK already have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that provides preferential access to each other’s markets. However, technology has advanced rapidly and trade agreements need to adapt as well.
Canada and the UK both have very strong bioscience, clean tech, AI and cybersecurity industries, and the new FTA will work towards creating an inclusive agreement. Specifically, Minister Ng mentioned that they would look towards building a green economy, “focused on making sure that there are opportunities for trading for small and medium-sized businesses, for women-owned businesses.”
Negotiations between the two countries began in March 2022, and the FTA is on track to be signed by April 2024.
The three pillars of promoting women
Prime Minister Trudeau approached Minister Ng and gave her a mandate: “Increase the number of women entrepreneurs in Canada and to invest and provide the support to enable that to happen.” 99% of Canadian businesses are SMEs, and during Minister Ng’s tenure, the percentage of women-owned businesses has grown from 15.6% in 2017 to 16.8% in 2020.
To ensure this mandate was met, Minister Ng and the WES implemented three pillars:
- Provide women with access to capital
- Create an ecosystem of support across the country
- Create the “knowledge hub” – collecting and measuring data
Minister Ng specifically touted how vital the ecosystem of support is for women in the workplace, and has recently visited countries around the world to see how they support their women in business.
Two of Minister Ng’s main takeaways? Affordable childcare and parental leave are a must.
Minister Ng said, “We have implemented $10 a day childcare, so affordable, early learning and childcare in Canada, which is a game changer for women leaders, for women entrepreneurs, for women-owned businesses.” Additionally, Canada has implemented parental care for both partners so the burden does not fall exclusively on the mother.
However, government policies can only be part of the equation. The next step is enabling the private sector to adopt these policies and pursue their own growth.
Creating a collaborative public-private ecosystem is the most efficient way to grow the economy and promote women-owned businesses. Through this ecosystem, best practices can be shared, open communication can help with trade negotiations, and mentorship programs can be implemented across the country.
Growth and equity for all is not just the government’s responsibility. It requires all of us to actively embrace equity.