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More women are taking the lead in boardrooms and export departments. Claudia Raab talks to some of those leaders, and analyses export opportunities and programs that encourage and help women to enter the global arena.


Active ImageWomen are increasingly taking on senior roles when it comes to exporting Australian goods and services. One in five Australian companies exporting regularly today is either run by a female chief executive officer or has a woman leading the export department, according to a recent survey conducted by express freight group DHL in conjunction with Austrade.

There are many factors, direct and indirect, driving this change. Specific help, such as Austrade’s Women in Export program, has encouraged more women to overcome doubt and fear in taking their business beyond Australia. More women around the world are becoming consumers, and overseas markets are increasingly responding to Australia’s clean, green, safe image.

When a young mother in Korea softly massages her newborn baby with rich natural aromatic oils or a group of business managers in Denmark celebrate their latest success with an exquisite bottle of fine red wine, it is now more likely they have chosen products made in Australia. The land down under for many consumers in Europe, Asia, the US, Canada or elsewhere in the world is associated with positive attributes people highly value in today’s competitive, fast-paced, success-orientated, and environmentally threatened world. Australia represents the great outdoor experience, a place with lifestyle and ultimate freedom. It’s regarded as being pure, clean, green, healthy, organic, fresh, exceptionally innovative, creative and exciting. Consumers beyond Australia’s shores are longing to get their share of all that by buying Australian products and services they can trust. Opportunities for exporters are manifold.

A couple of years ago, Pru Goward, the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, criticised the fact that female entrepreneurs were under-represented in the export ranks. Now more and more females in Australia dare to seize the chance. They engage in export to fulfil customers’ demands, expand their business, grow their profit and strengthen Australia’s economy.

Whether these women develop software like Wendy Kennedy of eWord, design and manufacture industrial baking systems like Amanda Hicks, director of Auto Bake, grow olives like Wendy Roberts, director of Island Olive Grove, or are a highly successful bio-medical exporter like Marie Stoner, who is heading Clinical Cell Culture that produces Cellspray assisting with skin burns, Australia’s women entrepreneurs in the agricultural, manufacturing, and service arena, increasingly dare to go global.

These women can now be found everywhere in Australia. They may live in capital cities, like Jodie Bache-McLean, general manager of the Brisbane-based June Dally-Watkins offering personal development programs. Or they might live on a farm near a tiny town in regional Western Australia selling live yabbies, like Mary Nenke. She runs Cambinata Yabbies based in Kukerin. Cambinata exports 60 percent of its produce and its supply base consists of 500 farms in Western Australia, 90 percent of which are run by women.

For insiders who closely monitor developments in the small business arena this development won’t come as a surprise. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, at present women run a third of Australia’s 1.6 million small businesses. As Tim Harcourt, Austrade’s chief economist, puts it, “this is where most of the export action is”. Small to medium enterprises make up 86 percent of Australia’s exporter community that provide nearly a fifth of Australia’s overall income.

It seems that female entrepreneurs over the years have gained more and more business experience, now feel more confident to step outside their (business) comfort zone, and that Austrade’s dedication to increasing the number of female exporters has paid off.

Given the large number of women in small businesses and—compared with male entrepreneurs—their reluctance to get involved in exporting, Austrade aims to help women realise their full export potential. It helps overcome barriers like the perception of geographical impossibility with the Women in Export program.

Austrade created the service to increase Australia’s general number of exporters, since we depend on trade for our economic growth. “Countries do better when they have economic participation from women,” Harcourt adds, referring to countries like Canada and regions such as Scandinavia. And Austrade research shows exporting has many community benefits. It assists wage levels, employment prospects, education and training, and the spread of innovation and technology throughout Australia—reasons enough to boost female export participation.

“We started the Women in Export program in 2002 and were impressed by the interest and positive feedback,” says Jenny Matthews, Austrade state manager in Western Australia, who leads Austrade’s Women in Export program.

Every year special seminars tailored to address women’s critical information gaps and barriers are offered in each state with a fast-growing number of participants. “Austrade’s Women in Export program provides answers that women in business need, and offers access to experienced export advisers to increase the speed of achieving international business success,” Matthews says. “Women enjoy the seminars. They especially like to hear about other women’s experiences and are less reluctant to ask questions.”

Trade commissioners based in various countries are invited to talk about their work, local markets and trends, cultural similarities and differences that can make exporting easy or challenging, and to answer doubts about exporting.

Despite its reputation for excellent cuisine, France, for example, is a promising market for Australian food exporters, according to Kirsten Sayers, senior trade commissioner in Paris. Potential exists for bulk and premium olive oils, fresh and frozen seafood, gourmet foods, organic foods and off-season stone fruit.

Although Paris is certainly still the capital of fashion, there is a growing interest in Australian design and cosmetics. And with Cannes being a gateway to Europe there are increasing opportunities in media and music for Australian musicians, singers, comedians, dancers and actors.

As a consequence of an increase in leisure time, the sports and leisure sectors in France are expanding with the country being already the largest market in Europe for private swimming pools and equipment. Brands like Billabong and Rip Curl specialising in sportive fashion design are already well established. Why shouldn’t there be room for more talented Australian creative minds?

However, France is not the only country open to Australian goods and services, especially in the high quality education and well-being sectors. There’s also room in Korea, points out Elizabeth Masamune, Seoul-based Austrade senior trade commissioner. “A trend has developed where many South Korean women have become involved in sectors such as cosmetics, aromatherapy, childcare products, and services and training, as well as human resources related areas,” Masamune says.

Since many Australian women are involved in the education, health, well-being and skincare sector, this market offers huge potential. “A lot of South Korean women working in those sectors share similar experiences to Australian women who have built their businesses in a similar way,” Masamune adds. “They are on the same wavelength as Australian women and can become very good partners, particularly if they can co-invest in a brand that an Australian woman has developed.”


Female Entrepreneurs

One female entrepreneur who now exports successfull
y is Catherine Arfi. She is the director of Victoria-based Aromababy, and creator of Australia’s first therapeutic natural skincare product range for babies, which is now found on shelves from Dubai to the US, and throughout the world. It is the result of her passion for her product, hard work, excellent market research, and her willingness to be flexible and to travel.

Being a dedicated mum to two young children was one of the hardest aspects of the exporting process, even for this energetic businesswoman. “You have to be aware of the impact exporting has on your company and yourself,” Arfi says. “Apart from doing your homework, like investigating trademarks, domain names and common law, you need to ask yourself: Can I afford to be away from my family?”

However, exporting for her company proved a good move and “opened up a whole range of opportunities which can strengthen branding on a global scale, encourage diversification and build sales in an otherwise limited local market”.

Robyn Lougoon, sales and marketing manager for Connor Park Winery in Victoria, also offers practical advice. “If you want to export your products get yourself a good housekeeper,” she says, and laughs, remembering endless days and nights filled with learning about exporting regulations, the importance of choosing an import partner carefully, and the meaning of being ‘export ready’. Still, exporting for Connor Park Winery is worthwhile. “The upside of exporting is, it offers your business diversity of markets and it spreads the risk,” Lougoon says.

Indeed, there is a lot to learn before the Australian-made chutneys or motor parts exported by women arrive at their final destination. Exporters have to know their products and their uniqueness as well as their export target market extremely well. E-commerce, marketing and communication plus cultural awareness skills, are very important. And Matthews knows from experience that a lot of women hesitate to take their products or services overseas because they are afraid to face the challenges that automatically come with export. Some might bail out because they don’t speak the language, feel they are not competent enough to use modern technology or are overwhelmed with legal or financial issues related to export.

However, there is help out there. Austrade, for example, helps exporters sell products and services and facilitate investment in overseas markets. It assists by identifying business opportunities for Australian companies in overseas markets and provides the relevant market intelligence and contacts. As well as worldwide market visits and export seminars, Austrade also offers Export Market Development Grants and arranges for potential exporters to participate in trade fairs and exhibitions in Australia and overseas. Some services are offered free, some might involve fees. For more information see www.austrade.gov.au

And as Arfi and Lougoon strongly recommend, entrepreneurs thinking about export should use help as much as they can. Getting in touch with other exporters and asking them for advice and referrals helps tremendously.

The trend is undeniable. Women will become increasingly important when it comes to international trade, on both the consumer and seller sides. “A factor influencing the boost in export opportunities for Australian businesswomen includes the materialisation of our trading partners increasingly having women earning incomes, which in turn leads them to becoming important consumers,” Harcourt says.

And as female presence in business is increasing in other countries, too, in coming years Australian women will certainly build strong international networks and team up with like-minded female colleagues worldwide.

Now is the perfect time for women entrepreneurs to get export ready. “Just don’t be afraid to take the first step,” says Matthews.  

* Claudia Raab is co-founder of Raab & Raab Performance Consulting, www.raabconsulting.com

Survey Stats

The recent DHL ‘Women in Export’ survey, conducted in conjunction with Austrade, revealed 28 percent of businesses in Queensland employed female CEOs. In Western Australia the figure is 15 percent, 12 percent in New South Wales and the ACT, 11 percent in Victoria and Tasmania, and seven percent in South Australia and the Northern Territory.


Useful Websites

Australian Businesswomen’s Network (ABN): www.abn.org.au

Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW): www.bpw.com.au

Organisation of Women in International Trade (OWIT): www.owit.org

Telstra Business Women’s Awards: www.businesswomensawards.telstra.com

Women Chiefs of Enterprise Australia: www.wcei.com.au

Specialised women’s networks: www.business.vic.gov.au (search for ‘women building bridges’).



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