Helping women business owners grow through trade
By Ian Murdoch
Ensuring that women can fully and equally participate in the economy is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. That’s why Canada’s inclusive approach to trade aims to ensure that women business owners benefit from the opportunities that flow from international trade.
The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) recognizes that by offering targeted support in specific areas—such as securing financing, networking, and mentorship opportunities, capacity building, and knowledge sharing—we can help more women business owners to begin exporting or exploring even more markets around the world.
Canadian women-owned and women-led businesses may benefit from the following services.
Diversity champions in Canada
The TCS has offices in more than 160 cities worldwide, including six regional offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal, and Halifax. Before making the leap abroad, many Canadian companies begin their global journey at one of these regional offices, where a Trade Commissioner helps them fine-tune their international business strategy to find the right markets for their products and services.
Since 2019, a Canada-wide network of diversity champions works in each regional office. These champions focus on providing dedicated support and services to inclusive trade groups, including women exporters:
making introductions to relevant partners, organizations, and businesses associations in Canada
promoting upcoming events or initiatives that have an inclusive trade group focus or component, including business delegations and conferences
helping to identify market opportunities
connecting to Trade Commissioners at TCS offices abroad
“We typically meet with companies all the time, offering one-on-one learning, giving advice about their business plans—and much more,” explains Ian Murdoch, a Trade Commissioner and one of the diversity champions working to support women business owners in the St. John’s satellite office.
“We have representation throughout Atlantic Canada to provide service to the region,” says Murdoch. “So I, here in St. John’s, cover Newfoundland and Labrador. Then we have Allison MacKenzie for Nova Scotia, as well as Aline Le Blanc, who is the diversity champion for New Brunswick.”
According to Murdoch, “our support to women businesses is similar to the support offered to all clients, but we do recognize that there are different barriers and challenges for women entrepreneurs growing internationally, from financing to accessing supply chains.”
Diversity champion responsibilities include interacting with various organizations to offer TCS information sessions and managing the TCS relationship with regional and provincial inclusive, trade‑focused organizations. Much of the regional offices’ outreach work is only possible because of their strong partnerships with local groups within their provincial territory.
This is part of the TCS’s “no wrong door policy.” This means if the TCS can’t provide the necessary assistance, they’ll connect their client with another government (national or provincial) organization that can help. Working alongside partners within Canada’s exporter community, export-ready companies can be assured that they’ll receive the services they need.
“In Atlantic Canada, the business support network is close-knit. Everybody knows everybody,” says Murdoch. “So if you don’t know somebody in a certain region at a certain agency or association, chances are someone else does. That’s why you should reach out to me or a colleague at another federal or provincial department: we’ll likely know somebody in the place you’re looking for and can connect you to them.”
Supplier diversity initiatives and business delegations abroad
Uncovering and promoting supplier diversity opportunities for Canadian companies is an important part of the work conducted by TCS offices abroad, particularly in the United States.
As Jean‑Pierre Hamel, Canada’s Senior Trade Commissioner in Miami, explains, there are significant opportunities to explore south of the border. “Many large buyers in the United States—including Fortune 500 companies—have proactive supplier diversity programs,” he says, adding that the TCS has an important role to play in ensuring that Indigenous, 2SLGBTQI+, women‑owned Canadian companies, and those owned by other underserved groups, have access to these US supply chains.
TCS offices abroad work hand in hand with regional offices in Canada to find the right companies to meet those needs. “We work closely with our regional office network back in Canada in order to identify these companies owned or led by people from groups traditionally underrepresented in international trade,” says Ximena Pauvif‑Machado, a Trade Commissioner based in Miami who covers the defence and security and life sciences sectors. “When we have a conference to promote or a business opportunity [to share], the regional offices are instrumental in helping us identify a company that could fit the need.”
In recent years, the TCS team in Miami has participated in several conferences geared toward women‑owned and -led businesses, specifically, Go for the Greens, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council National Conference and Business Fair, and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference.
According to Pauvif‑Machado, the connections made by Canadian companies at diversity‑focused events like these are invaluable and long‑lasting. “It’s incredible to see how open these companies are to helping each other out and making connections to other business opportunities beyond the events.”
In Miami and elsewhere, participation in group‑specific events, trade missions, and business delegations is a key way in which the TCS supports inclusive trade groups. Trade Commissioners help participating Canadian companies prepare through pre‑event webinars and access to resource documents. The companies may then attend networking events, business preparation sessions, workshops, and business‑to‑business meetings arranged with local companies and stakeholders—all organized by the TCS. Some initiatives are even tailored to respond to the current needs of large corporations that have supplier diversity programs.
Trade Commissioners based in Miami also work with provincial partners, women’s economic organizations, and various chambers of commerce and associations to help promote opportunities in their territory, which encompasses Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
For example, Pauvif‑Machado notes that she and her colleagues engage regularly with local chambers of commerce representing underserved groups. She adds that the team “has made great progress in connecting with these constituencies and promoting linkages with their Canadian equivalents.”
All these efforts help companies explore opportunities and connect with the right business partners and customers in new markets, which increases their chance of striking a deal with a foreign buyer or partner.
Pauvif‑Machado enumerates several TCS‑supported successes in the Miami market. “We’ve had some women‑owned businesses sign a deal with a major car manufacturer for their consumer products, others that have gotten their products into supermarkets, and one was selected to participate in a Shark Tank–style event for a hardware chain.”
As part of Canada’s Export Diversification Strategy, the TCS is helping women-owned and -led businesses overcome barriers as they set their sights on global expansion, while also proactively working across its vast network to help companies diversify their markets.
CanExport can cover 50 percent of the costs associated with participating in activities such as TCS organized events or business delegations, applying for intellectual property protection in international markets, and more. Speak with your Trade Commissioner of visit the CanExport website for more information on eligibility and when the program is open to receive new applications.
Companies participating in inclusive trade-focused business delegations with the TCS, such as those targeted to businesswomen, can submit a CanExport funding request for less than the $20,000 minimum application amount if they only want to cover the costs associated with participating in that event (and not submit requests to engage in additional market activities).
Going global: Empowering women through trade—A free guide
Looking for ways to unlock your full potential as a woman entrepreneur? If so, please download a free copy of the new Women in Trade guide from Export Development Canada, which contains expert insights on how Canadian companies owned or led by women can realize their global potential. Download the free guide and learn how to grow your business internationally.
Whether it’s in Canada, in the United States, or around the world, the TCS is committed to working with Canadian women exporters, as well as those from all segments of Canadian society, to help them expand their presence and achieve success in global markets. As Senior Trade Commissioner Hamel says, “providing a platform for underrepresented groups in international trade is a priority for the Government of Canada and by extension, the TCS.”
For more information on TCS support and initiatives for women-owned and women-led businesses, visit the Business Women in International Trade web page.
Ian Murdoch, CITP®
Global Affairs Canada | Government of Canada
Based in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ian Murdoch is a trade commissioner at Global Affairs Canada. With a master’s in international affairs from Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Ian has travelled the world assisting small business owners with sustainable business development and international trade. In 2021 Ian earned the prestigious and industry-recognized CITP|FIBP designation.