A recent study of Australian women engaged in international business revealed some interesting facts. Over 42 per cent of their businesses went global within 12 months of start-up, and 81 per cent within five years, with one third of businesses earning more than 50 per cent of their sales from international revenue.
Yet the study also found that the barriers to growing global businesses that bring money back into the Australian economy are becoming more challenging. While some of these barriers are the same as those faced by men – like navigating bureaucratic red tape and finding reliable distributors – the challenge women face in greater measure is accessing finance.
Over 55 per cent of survey respondents found accessing finance very difficult, with the majority attributing part of that difficulty to their gender. Is this gender bias? Well, you can decide for yourself.
The Australian government has various initiatives set up to support women in business and close the gender gap for Australian women wanting to expand their businesses around the globe. Women in Global Business is one of these, and was set up five years ago through Austrade to help build confidence and lower the barriers for women looking to expand their businesses overseas. This program aims to give women business owners access to mentors to help them improve their skills and navigate international markets.
One of the barriers women face when looking to expand overseas is understanding what they’re up against – in navigating new markets and the idiosyncrasies of a foreign bureaucracy, as well as having the confidence to take on whatever challenges they may face as a woman in a different culture. The reality is that most countries have some form of ingrained sexism that women have to deal with in order to grow their businesses. However, any woman can. The key is to go in with your eyes open, find local support and build a local network of influencers who can help you open doors and navigate the finer nuances of the market and bureaucracy, along with local business customs and practices that could trip up unwary operators.
Having worked with hundreds of businesswomen over the years, the biggest hurdle most face is simply believing in their own ability to succeed. Sure, there will be challenges to growing a global business and the occasional closed door, but as we have seen again and again, for women who have a big vision and are willing to take the risks and do the work, anything is possible. Not easy, but possible.
Margie Warrell is the national ambassador for women in global business, speaker and author of Brave: 50 Acts of Courage to Thrive in Work, Love & Life.