Proportion of women in trade missions rises to 25%

Over the past 6 months the proportion of women participating in trade missions has risen sharply, from 10% to 25%. This is now the same as the proportion of Dutch women entrepreneurs working abroad. The increase is due to an extra focus on female entrepreneurship, including a temporary discount incentive introduced by trade minister Lilianne Ploumen.

Last week Ms Ploumen headed a trade delegation to Australia, in which 32 of the 125 entrepreneurs (26%) were women. ‘I’ve headed almost 40 trade missions so far, and this one is really different from all the others,’ she said. ‘I always used to be one of the few women present. The plain fact is that women were severely under-represented. But thanks to the focus over the past few months, more and more female entrepreneurs are now getting involved in trade missions. So they too can benefit from the opportunities and contacts that these missions generate.’

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a meeting for businesswomen to find out why so few were participating in trade missions. Ms Ploumen explained, ‘It turned out that many of them knew nothing at all about trade missions or what can be achieved through them. The women also said it was more difficult for them to take a few days off to go abroad, for instance because of children at home. We tried to remove these obstacles through a targeted information campaign and by involving businesswomen in setting up the programme. In other words, through a made-to-measure approach.’

When recruiting participants for the missions, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) directly approached women and women’s networks in a variety of ways. The Minister also wrote to a number of companies that had been sending few female representatives on missions. These efforts proved successful: the number of women participating in the past 7 trade missions has doubled. On the mission to South Korea, the percentage of women was a record 36%. The discount incentive turned out not to be a key factor in increasing women‘s participation, although it did make a difference for small firms, which are often run by women.

The discount and information campaign will continue for another 6 months. Ms Ploumen hopes the measures will have a lasting effect. ‘Women contribute new ideas, experience and expertise that can help to position Dutch companies more effectively on the international market,’ she explained. ‘This also promotes female entrepreneurship in the countries we visit. So we are continuing to approach women, for example through our regional business services. And we’ll go on using the made-to-measure approach to ensure that the trade missions tie in with the wishes of entrepreneurs – men and women.’

Ministry responsible