Anne Szender l Palladium - Apr 14 2021
Ecommerce Breaks Down Biases and Opens Opportunities for Women-Owned Businesses

Source: WOC in Tech

Anne Szender is a Senior Technical Advisor with Palladium’s Economic Growth practice, and currently serves as Project Director for the Alliance for eTrade Development II and Deputy Project Director for the CATALYZE blended finance project. She has worked with USAID, private foundations, and multinational corporations and her technical areas of specialization include private sector development, international trade, blended finance and new partner engagement.

Ecommerce has created incredible opportunities for enterprises and entrepreneurs around the world. It provides businesses of all sizes greater access to buyers and sellers in domestic and international markets and increases their resiliency to local or even global economic shocks like COVID-19.

The growth of ecommerce has resulted in businesses advertising their products on a variety of platforms, from social media, to stand-alone websites, or consolidated marketplaces, effectively connecting them with buyers in markets around the globe at a fraction of the cost. This dramatically increases smaller enterprises’ access to new markets where they may have previously found it prohibitively expensive to connect with buyers. Ecommerce also affords a greater flexibility for entrepreneurs, allowing them to conduct businesses out of their homes and at the hours most convenient to them.

But for women-owned enterprises, ecommerce has been revolutionary.

Global Opportunities for Growth

Globally, only one-third of enterprises are owned by women and women-owned enterprises are much more likely to be small or micro enterprises. But women-owned enterprises, due to their smaller size and limited resources, are also much less likely or able to sell their goods internationally. Only 15-20 per cent of businesses who trade internationally are owned by women, severely limiting their opportunities for growth and making them more vulnerable to shocks within the local environment.

The flexibility and cost-efficiency of ecommerce dramatically increases opportunities for female entrepreneurs, allowing them to run a business while also managing family commitments as well as reducing the cost of accessing new markets. But ecommerce is not without its barriers, women also face considerable obstacles in accessing digital tools and services including internet access, and often lack the skills to develop a website, join an online marketplace, or set up digital or online banking and payments.

Empowering Women-Owned Businesses to Harness eCommerce

In an effort to support micro-small-and-medium-sized enterprises (MSME), USAID formed a Global Development Alliance with 11 private sector partners, called The Alliance for eTrade Development ll. With a specific focus on women-owned MSMEs, the Alliance’s goal is ensuring that these businesses benefit from the extraordinary opportunities provided by ecommerce to increase economic opportunity and empower women globally.

This includes initiatives to provide women-led enterprises with access to training and skills to help them engage in digital marketing and onboard to ecommerce platforms, as well as studying and codifying which skills and types of capacity building support are most critical and effective for enabling women-led businesses to benefit from ecommerce.

While research is ongoing, one of the key learnings uncovered by recent surveys of MSMEs is that contrary to the general population of women owned businesses, those that have successfully established an online presence (through a website or ecommerce platform) are equally as likely as male owned enterprises of a similar size to engage in international exports. This suggests that the advantages of ecommerce allow women to compete on a more level playing field with male owned enterprises.

While it may be expected that both male and female owned enterprises would benefit equally from the reduced cost of accessing new markets through ecommerce, it appears that ecommerce eliminates the biases or barriers that typically hinder female-owned enterprises.

Studies and improvement initiatives are still ongoing, but it’s clear that the flexibility of ecommerce may be particularly beneficially to women, and perhaps more importantly, the relative anonymity of digital commerce may reduce or eliminate bias traditionally faced by female entrepreneurs.

Behavioural economics has shown that eliminating information on a candidate’s gender in job applications or auditions significantly increases opportunities for female candidates and early evidence shows this may also be the case for female entrepreneurs engaging in ecommerce.

This could have significant implications for women’s economic empowerment and opportunities for women entrepreneurs globally. However, much work still needs to be done to ensure women-owned enterprises have access to the digital skills and tools that will enable them to take advantage of ecommerce opportunities. To address the gap, the Alliance is working on a foundational report that will codify the key issues hindering women-led firms from engaging in ecommerce, and map the existing programs and approaches taken by public and private organisations to help women overcome these barriers.

The results from this research will provide a roadmap of tools and approaches proven to be most successful in enabling women-led enterprises to take advantage of the significant benefits afforded them by ecommerce.
Ecommerce is a critical tool to enabling female economic engagement which has been shown to not only benefit female entrepreneurs, and their businesses, but also their families and their communities, driving inclusive economic growth and improved social outcomes for developing countries globally.

The Alliance for eTrade Development ll, implemented by Palladium, is a Global Development Alliance between USAID and 11 leading private sector partners to support MSME cross-border ecommerce development. To learn more, check out their website, or reach out to or