Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

At the recent IFC Global Trade Partners Meeting in Barcelona, TFG moderated a roundtable on Women in Trade. 

We asked the participants a few poll questions, but one response to a question specifically stood out. “Does your current client base comprise of more than 50% of women?”

One person raised their hand. 

While it is true that the trade, treasury & payments industries have made impressive strides in gender inclusion, moments like these show that we have a long way to go. 

But this is why roundtable events like this are important, and why TFG hosted our annual Women in Trade, Treasury & Payments event in London, at the historic Lansdowne Club in London. 

If you look around, there are remarkable stories to be told about inclusion, perseverance, and success. We just need to tell them.

It was a man’s world, but not anymore: The role of women in trade finance

Trade finance has traditionally been a male-dominated field, in fact, according to the WEF Global Gender Gap report, it will take 131 years to reach full gender parity.

But this narrative is changing, slowly but surely.

Women are now leading key initiatives, driving innovation, and bringing diverse perspectives to the table. Their participation is crucial for fostering an inclusive environment that promotes sustainable growth and equitable opportunities.

Leaders like Gwen Mwaba, Afreximbank, Johanna Hill, WTO, Michelle Knowles, Absa, Neha Noronha, ADB and Deepa Sinha, BAFT, are notable examples of how the industry is changing. Additionally, new initiatives like BAFT’s Women in Transaction Banking and IFC’s Women’s Trade network are examples of how the industry can create spaces to collaborate and share best practices to further the advancement of women in the TTP industry.

As more women are empowered within the industry and work their way to leadership positions, it can help change the narrative. 

By elevating more women to C-Suite positions, they can help solve some of the long-standing issues faced by women who trade. 

But it is not just about helping promote women to executive jobs, it’s about helping women on a day-to-day basis. As of 2021, there were approximately 740 million women who lack access to banking. 

According to IFC’s newest whitepaper, “Banking on Women Who Trade Across Borders”, in Africa, 90% of trade finance applications for females are rejected because of a lack of collateral. 

As we discuss in this issue, there are many different reasons for these stats, and there are no easy, one-size-fits-all solutions.

However, there are new programmes, policies and initiatives that are starting to address these challenges. One person won’t solve all these problems, but as an industry, the collective elevation of female leaders is a great place to start.

Digital transformation and access to finance

The digital revolution is a powerful catalyst for gender inclusion in trade. Digital platforms and technologies offer unprecedented opportunities for women to access global markets, secure financing, and enhance their business operations. 

Initiatives like the Africa Trade Gateway (ATG) by Afreximbank provide women entrepreneurs with access to critical trade information, helping them make informed decisions and expand their businesses.

Moreover, digital trade has proven to be particularly beneficial for women. It breaks down traditional barriers such as geographical limitations and provides flexible working conditions, which are essential for balancing professional and personal responsibilities. 

As we continue to embrace digitalisation, it is imperative that we ensure these advancements are accessible to all, fostering an environment where women can thrive.

Who do you look up to? Role models can make a difference

Mentorship plays a vital role in empowering the next generation of female leaders. By sharing their experiences and knowledge, established women professionals can guide and inspire younger women to pursue careers in trade finance. 

Programmes focused on mentorship and role modelling are essential for building confidence and providing the support needed for women to excel in their careers.

The concept of reverse mentoring, where younger or less experienced individuals mentor senior leaders, is also gaining traction. This approach can foster a culture of inclusivity and continuous learning, allowing organisations to benefit from different perspectives and innovative ideas.

Despite the progress made, significant challenges remain in achieving gender parity in trade finance. Societal pressures, lack of role models, and organisational biases often hinder women’s career advancement. To address these issues, a multifaceted approach is required, encompassing policy reforms, corporate initiatives, and cultural shifts.

Policies promoting gender equality and financial inclusion are crucial for dismantling barriers that women face. Companies must also take proactive steps to create inclusive work environments where women can advance based on their skills and merits. 

This involves implementing flexible work arrangements, providing equal opportunities for career development, and actively combating gender biases within the organisation.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

The stories of successful women in trade finance are not just inspiring but also serve as powerful examples of what can be achieved with determination and support. 

At the IFC event, we asked a few more questions. 

“When you first started your jobs or your careers in trade, please put your hands up if you thought you had female figures in senior positions in your organisations that you felt that you could look up to.”

Only 10% of the room raised their hand. But we wanted to know about the environment now

“Put your hands up or keep your hands up if you feel that this has changed. So today, looking at your organisation, do you feel that you have a female senior or female role model that you can pick up to?”

Over 2/3rds of the room raised their hand.

And over 90% of the room said they are mentoring a younger female in the industry. 

These are important changes to highlight. It reminds us that beyond the negatives, things are changing for the better. The policies and initiatives, while not perfect, are working, and we need to continue to move ahead with them.

Over the 5 years that TFG has run our Women in Trade, Treasury & Payments campaign, we have celebrated 57 females in 132 organisations across 72 countries. This is incredible, but we know there are endless success stories that we all could highlight. But it’s a start.

What’s next for Women in Trade?

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and the numerous achievements of women in trade finance all year, beyond 8 March, we must also look forward to the future. The journey towards gender parity is ongoing, and it requires the collective efforts of individuals, organisations, and policymakers. 

By fostering an inclusive and supportive environment, we can ensure that women continue to drive progress and innovation in trade finance.

We hope that this edition of Trade Finance Talks serves as a talking point for you, to think of how you and your organisation can continue to elevate women across trade, treasury & payments. 

In other news

The payments industry has experienced significant transformations in 2024 driven by technological advancements, regulatory changes, and evolving consumer preferences. Key technologies like ISO 20022, cloud solutions, instant payments, and APIs are redefining banking systems and enhancing the efficiency, transparency, and speed of financial transactions globally. 

Real-time payments (RTP) are becoming crucial, driven by the demand for immediate transactions across various sectors, including financial services, fintech wallets, the gig economy, insurance, and online betting. This shift towards faster payments is essential for competitive necessity, reflecting the market’s emphasis on speed and operational efficiency. 

This might just be one edition, but TFG will continue our work in diversity and inclusion throughout the year. Keep an eye out for more news!

As always, thank you to our sponsors and partners, and all of our contributors across the globe!

In this edition

2.1 Lloyds Bank trade insights : The new era of working capital management, a treasurer’s view

2.2 Navigating the new “new” in the Supply Chain Finance industry

2.3 Understanding rules of origin: Getting the details right

2.4 International Standby Practices (ISP98): 25 years later

2.5 A 2024 guide to customs compliance and cross- border trade

2.6 FCI’s Neal Harm on kicking off inclusive growth in the factoring industry

3. Driving progress: Women leading in trade, treasury & payments

3.1 Women in Trade, Treasury & Payments 2024 – Policy to practice: Addressing gender disparity in financial access

3.2 Women in Trade, Treasury & Payments 2024 – From classroom to boardroom: Educating for gender equity in trade, treasury, and payments

3.3 Africa focus: Afreximbank on empowering women in trade, treasury, and payments

3.4 Progression through effort and risk taking: Absa’s Michelle Knowles discusses being a woman in the workplace

3.5 DDG Hill: Empowering women through global trade

3.6 Empowerment through inclusion: ADB’s mission for equitable trade

3.7 International Women’s Day 2024: Breathing inclusion

4. A changing payments landscape in 2024

4.1 The impacts of ISO 20022 on transaction banking

4.2 Keeping pace with payments: Lessons learned from a dynamic landscape

4.3 The future prospects of the RTP® network, easing the ISO 20022 transition

4.4 EU’s Late Payment Regulation: Exposing the need for better public discourse

4.5 The great balancing act: Making trade and payments faster, cheaper, and easier in 2024

4.6 Federal Reserve: Monetary policy update, making payments instant and faster, overview of the FedNow Service®

4.7 Mexico amends legislation, enables electronic financial documents

4.8 Demystifying payment modernisation: Separating fact from fiction

5. Sustainability and trade: How to make the two match

5.1 The ESG challenge for African credit insurers

5.2 New sustainability approaches in shipping: Strategies for decarbonising the industry

5.3 Sustainability in MENA: First Abu Dhabi Bank’s approach to sustainable trade finance

5.4 How can the shipping industry help sustainable rental services grow?

5.5 Corporate accountability in a warming world: CarbonChain’s role in effective carbon reporting