March 02, 2020

Hanna Norberg: On instigating a new, and growing, trade community

by Deanna Ramsay / in Q&A

The Trade Experettes founder discusses the blossoming global network of female experts from ‘all walks of trade’

So, tell me how all this got started?

It was something that sort of fell into my lap, and no one was more surprised than me!

In the past five years, I have been working as solopreneur, working in different teams, but literally only managing myself – and now all of a sudden, I have this network of hundreds of women. It’s kind of like having a baby falling into your lap, right? Although I didn’t have any idea how to raise it or what to do with it, I knew immediately that this list of female trade heroes, or “sheroes” – was an invaluable treasure and it was up to me to keep it alive.

What happened is that there was an article about ongoing trade agreement negotiations in one of the major US newspapers last summer in which they quoted 12 trade experts – really good ones, people who I would ask any day of the week for insights. Brilliant guys… and that was the just thing, they were all guys. This led to a Twitter conversation about how to make it easier for people to find female trade experts. All of a sudden, people started nominating their colleagues and I started collecting the names, and the Trade Experettes “list of awesomeness” was born.

There has been a lot of discussion about the gender imbalance in this field, and I respect that, however, this initiative is not about pushing against or vilifying anyone, we’re more about making it easier to offer an alternative. I think much of the imbalance actually comes from an underlying unconscious bias.

So, for those journalists and conference organizers who are looking for more diversity, we’re making it easier and we’re shining that light. That was the original idea, but when I started looking at the list we’d compiled, I thought “Wait, this is an amazing resource. This is something that I want access to – I want these women, with their expertise and experience, in MY network.”

How is it working now?

We have no agenda and no resources really, but it’s such a cool thing because what ties us together is that there are these female trade experts, and they’re all geniuses because they’ve only gotten as far as they have by being geniuses and having taken on incredible things.

I was also lucky enough to work with experts in quality infrastructure, standardization, regulation and customs. These people – who are so central to the process – are very rarely in the conversations. Too often, people in different spheres of trade don’t get the opportunity to know each other.

The key is that everyone who is an active part of Trade Experettes is ready to say “Hey, how can I help?” I did ask myself, “How can I hold the door open for those who will be doing this next time?” And this has turned out to be a professional sisterhood beyond anything I could possibly have imagined. Now there is a parallel universe where I call people up and say “I was looking at your CV and I was thinking maybe you could help us with this?” and people are not yelling at me, they are saying “Sure, how can I help?” and I am just so grateful and humbled to be a part of this.

In the beginning we grew by people reaching out or someone saying that this person has got to be in. That’s how it started on Twitter. At first, I thought we could create a Twitter group but a group only held 50 members so within eight hours we were full! Then I started a Trade Experettes Twitter account and then we realized that not everyone is on Twitter. Then some of our brilliant Experettes built us a website with a blog and people reach out there. We also network via LinkedIn, with a public profile as well as a private group page.

For those of us who are active members, who we call the “Instigators”, we have meetings on Zoom once a month where we discuss how we can make things happen and help turn the list of awesomeness into usefulness.

Tell me more about the members of Trade Experettes.

We have members all over the world now. Our focus is that we have women from all walks of trade.

Having a connection to people in all walks of trade was actually one of the reasons that I went out on my own. I come from an academic background but then I did policy research and what became obvious to me was that the communication between experts from different parts of the trade world was lacking. Academics are doing academic things and policy makers are doing policy things. You also have the trade negotiators and the private sector and journalists, all in different countries.

In my work, I was also lucky enough to work with experts in quality infrastructure, standardization, regulation and customs. These people – who are so central to the process – are very rarely in the conversations. Too often, people in different spheres of trade don’t get the opportunity to know each other unless they’ve worked in a specific area or if they’ve met at a conference somewhere.

In order to reap the most benefits from trade, we, as a collective global community, need to make informed decisions. In order to make these informed decisions, we need to gather accurate and timely information. We need to learn from and communicate with all actors along the trade chain. That is why connecting Experettes from “all walks of trade” is so powerful and extremely exciting.

Of course people talk a lot about manels – which is still a problem. Is that a point of focus?

It was really Cecilia Malmstrom who taught me the ropes on this. Whenever she was invited to give a talk, in her role as Trade Commissioner for the EU, she’d reply “If I’m the only woman on the stage, I’m not coming.” This was a way for conference organizers to show that they had done their homework in preparing for the conference before contacting her, right? To her, the availability of brilliant women was obvious, so whoever replied that they couldn’t find qualified female speakers had just not bothered to look hard enough.

We need to move forward and find out what works best and for the aspects of trade that we don’t know yet there is an ethical obligation to try and to level the playing field.

We go by the “the more the merrier” motto and are delighted to collaborate with others, such as the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT) and the Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT). We are also lucky to work with The Brussels Binder, which works to end manels. We have our Experettes in their network and that is an additional way of finding them. Also, I should point out that there are plenty of male colleagues out there whose generosity and support have been absolutely instrumental in getting us to where we are now.

Do you have anything specific upcoming planned?

We are lucky enough to have Experettes as part of our Instigators group who are brilliant at writing grant proposals. As such, we have recently acquired some seed money from the Jean Monnet fund in the EU that will enable us to organize events featuring Experettes over the next two years. The first will be in Brussels in May, then in Stockholm, and one in London and one in DC.

What do you hope for the future of trade?

Trade to me is something that is completely magical. You walk into the supermarket and the fruit that is available here in Sweden or in the US Midwest in the middle of winter – it is nothing short of magical how that happens. I think there are better ways to do trade policy and to do that we need that extra expertise. We need to move forward and find out what works best and for the aspects of trade that we don’t know yet there is an ethical obligation to try and to level the playing field. That’s how I see it.

All the time people are reaching out to me, and we’re looking at how we can mentor and how we can inspire. We want people from all over the world getting a seat at the table. We need more diverse voices, people who are more open-minded, we need more smart people, more people who are generous and humble enough to share information.

A Trade Experette = awesome + female + trade + expert, where awesome is the operative word and the reason we have gotten this far. Same goes for the future of trade and trade policy. We need more diversity in the field, we need to gather more expertise and make the most of it, but in order to actually make a difference, we need people who are willing to be open-minded, learn and use their power and position to develop trade as a vehicle for good.

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Header image of a ylang-ylang bloom in Comoros - ©Ollivier Girard/EIF

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