Conquering the exporting challenge

A great business idea is often great in any country, and in any language. But as many entrepreneurs find out, the path to international expansion can be difficult, particularly, it seems, if you’re a woman.

Austrade saw this and took action, establishing Women in Global Business (WIGB) in 2010. WIGB is a joint Australian, state and territory government initiative established to increase female participation in international trade.

Finding a lack of Australian research on women’s participation in international trade, Austrade started conducting research with the University of Melbourne. According to WIGB’s 2015 Women, global trade and what it takes to succeed report, businesses owned and operated by women are among the fastest growing business segments, but despite success in domestic markets they are less likely to export.

So why are women-owned businesses not replicating their domestic success on a global stage?

Funding is everything

The WIGB report found there’s no shortage of eagerness for international expansion amongst these women. Almost three quarters (74 per cent) were seeking to expand into new markets.

Expanding into Asia was of particular interest, with 34 per cent identifying China as the most important market.

While the hunger is definitely there, the survey indicates the major barrier preventing businesswomen from expanding internationally is access to finance and capital.

  • Of the 21 per cent of women surveyed who had attempted to borrow to fund international expansion, less than a third were successful.
  • Only 10 per cent of women regarded accessing finance as easy or very easy, while 55 per cent rated it difficult or very difficult.
  • Of internationally-engaged owner-operators 39 per cent felt that gender made a difference to their access to finance.


For these reasons, the majority of women said they rely on reinvested profits and personal savings to fund business expansion. Many women also fund their business using their personal credit cards, which is not sustainable when it comes to expanding into international markets.

The big irony of their financing situation is that most of the women who have made the transition to an international business are doing it extremely well. More than half (52 per cent) of the women-owned businesses surveyed who expanded internationally in the past five years reported sales growth of more than 40 per cent in the past year.

How WIGB is helping

WIGB runs events and workshops to help Australian businesswomen overcome the barriers to international expansion, these include:

  • workshops to increase women’s knowledge of the funding options open to them in expanding their businesses overseas.
  • an annual Speaker Series held around Australia addressing topical issues in regional trade, such as engagement with Asia with last year’s series specifically on the implications of the free-trade agreements signed with South Korea and Japan.  

Joyce Phillips, CEO ANZ Global Wealth, said events such as these were important to recognise and support the growing presence of women in international business.

“Women currently control more than $21 trillion of global wealth and their success in numerous fields means their contribution to our financial systems is steadily growing,” Ms Phillips said.

“That is why ANZ is delighted to partner with organisations like ‘Women in Global Business’ who play such a vital role in providing women with support, inspiration and opportunities to help expand their businesses internationally.”

To find out more about this year’s workshops or Speaker Series, please visit www.wigb.gov.au.

ANZ is the platinum sponsor of Women in Global Business.