Gwen Young

Global trade is part of the fabric of our everyday business life and plays a major role in economic growth. International trade organizations grow faster, pay higher salaries, and provide greater profits than many non-exporting firms. Lately, trade has become vulnerable, however, from COVID, to the war in Ukraine, to a stalled ship in the Panama Canal, and, as this is being posted, from shipping vessels coming under attack in the Red Sea.

No doubt about it: global trade is taking some hard hits After 75 years of careful work to ensure the smooth exchange of goods across the globe, the World Trade Organization has begun to feel shock waves as strong forces of protectionism sweep into politics and boardrooms.

Instead of pulling back and retrenching, corporations and governments need to reimagine how trade can and should look to ensure a prosperous, inclusive trade environment for everyone. One of the keys to a new and robust approach to international trade is to ensure the inclusion of women — women in leadership, women as part of value chains, women as part of the workforce, and women in government. By treating the needs of women as part of good business, and by creating greater opportunities for women to achieve equity and equality in business and government, I see a brighter future, one of peace, stability, and prosperity. 

Women-owned businesses are critical to GDP. Women-owned businesses continue to fuel the economy, representing 39.1% of all businesses – over 14 million – employing 12.2 million workers and generating $2.7 trillion in revenue. According to the 2024 Wells Fargo Impact of Women-Owned Business Report done in partnership with Ventureneer, CoreWoman, and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), the number of women-owned businesses between 2019 and 2023 increased at nearly double the rate of those owned by men; and from 2022 to 2023, the rate of growth increased to 4.5 times. 

There are fewer women-owned businesses engaged in trade, however than businesses owned by men. Some of the reasons have to do with the industries—women are more likely to own service businesses that do not easily translate to international trade—but some of the reasons cannot simply be explained by sector, age, or size. The barriers include poor access to finance and networks and not enough women’s leadership across all industries. We will see success when women are well-represented in trade and are part of the broader supply chain.

WBC is committed to working with our partners, champions, and sponsors to address the gaps for women in business, and the good news is that some of the reasons we see fewer women in trade come from systemic barriers that can be addressed by targeted interventions: 1) structuring better policies to help women embark in global trade; 2) increasing internet access, especially in rural areas, as online platforms play a significant role in global trade,3) increasing access to capital and trade financing; 4) ensuring that women are included in trade networks. With strategic interventions, advocacy, and policy reforms, we can change the face of international trade and include more women.

The profound disruptions of just the last few years highlight that business as usual doesn’t work anymore. By expanding opportunities, including women at all levels of government and business, and by ensuring that there are policies and practices that provide economic empowerment for women, there is the chance to build on the lessons from the past and create stronger, more inclusive trade that uplifts everyone.


  • Gwen K. Young

    Gwen K. Young is the Chief Executive Officer of the Women Business Collaborative. She is also a Visiting Scholar at the Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University and former Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative and Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center. She is an Advisor to Concordia and President of BalanceUp Leadership. Ms. Young has worked across the globe to promote equal opportunity, and peace and justice. She has developed strategy, programming and advocacy in the areas of humanitarian policy, international affairs and international development. This includes developing public private partnerships focused on public health, agriculture, gender equality, and access to finance. Further, Ms. Young has advocated for and published on the role girls and women play in political, social and economic development and designed exploitation and SGBV guidelines. As an attorney, Ms. Young has worked as a professional advocate for women and human rights in corporate law settings, with the ICTY and the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.Her career has encompassed a comprehensive array of international organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Medecins Sans Frontieres, International Rescue Committee, and the Harvard Institute for International Development.An alumna of Smith College, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the University of California Davis, Martin Luther King Jr School of Law, Ms. Young has pursued a career of international public service in humanitarian relief, international development, and human rights.

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