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Why are women exporters invisible?

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Regular blogger Cynthia Balogh reflects on the lack of female winners at this year's Australian Export Awards. Here’s a depressing statistic. There were zero women winners at the 50th Australian Export Awards this year. That’s right. Zilch, zip, nought.  Congratulations to the finalists, this is no reflection on them. Their awards are well deserved.  But it was confronting and frankly shocking to see a stage full of middle aged men receiving their awards in November, in a year when women’s economic empowerment has received so much attention globally. There are many successful female exporters in Australia. They number around 10 percent of women business owners, which is low I grant you, but a figure that Women in Global Business is determined to grow. We know there are some fantastic businesswomen out there with excellent products and services, and great export businesses, but they are generally invisible to the general public and especially to the media. Not only do they not put themselves forward for awards and gongs, but they also don’t seek a profile for themselves. With the exception of the usual suspects who pop up time and time again at speaking events and networking sessions, most successful women business owners do not seek the limelight. WIGB and the University of Melbourne have just completed a study of women business owners who have internationalised their business and one of the surprising results is that the majority of these women are aged over fifty. How many of these are household names? We asked our WIGB Facebook friends why so few women applied for the Australian Export Awards in 2012.  Some of the feedback indicated that it was due to work/life balance issues with business and family responsibilities. Certainly this puts a greater burden on women rather than men given they are still the primary carers. Others indicated women were not aware of the Australian Export Awards. These reasons are all valid and all contribute but perhaps the other key reason is a fear of self-promotion and the lack of appreciation of its benefits. Women do not seek self-promotion because they have been socialised from an early age to not share accomplishments and achievements but rather operate quietly in the background. Compounding this is the tall-poppy syndrome making is socially unacceptable to elevate your talents and achievements from your peers. This self-defeating conduct is a mystery to our colleagues in the USA, who are confused and confounded by this behaviour, understanding the rule that no-one else will promote you if you don’t. If you look at the Forbes 100 most powerful women in 2012, you see the rewards and success from self-promotion. Whether it is social media, a book, speaking engagements, attending networking events or putting your business forward for the Australian Export Awards, the potential rewards often greatly outweigh the initial investment. So businesswomen of Australia, make 2013 the year you spend time promoting yourself and your business. Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is. We wish everyone a safe and happy festive season.

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